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In New Orleans, cardboard signs get the word out

NEW ORLEANS—Amid junked cars and refrigerators strewn along New Orleans-area highways, little signs have popped up everywhere.

They're typically 18 by 24 inches, printed on what looks like white cardboard. They're attached to metal stakes, then stuck in the ground.

Thousands of them along roadways and in medians advertise for odor removal, debris removal, mold removal, demolition, construction, class-action lawsuits, dental care, medical care, restaurants, stores and more.

There are even signs for signs, asking in bold letters: "Need signs?"

What business doesn't, when Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding crippled modern forms of communication in and around the city?

Sign-maker David Livaudais has owned Hightech Signs in Metairie for 15 years. "We're having probably our best month ever," he said, adding that his company has made several thousand signs since the hurricane.

Livaudais said his shop had seen a frenzy of businesses wanting signs. At first, they were companies advertising cleanup services. Now most of the customers want signs that say "now open" or "now hiring."

"It's the way people are communicating," Livaudais said. "You go out and try to find a cup of coffee, you can't find a cup of coffee. People won't turn into a parking lot unless they see a `now open' sign."

Lawyer Seth Bloom, 28, has put out about 200 signs for his downtown New Orleans law office. He said he'd never done that before. To hear him talk, he's doing it in the name of justice.

Bloom said people were in "desperate situations"—fighting insurance claims adjusters, or maybe trying to get their children out of jail for violating area curfews—and they couldn't find their lawyers. "You need someone," he said.

Bloom said he'd spent about $1,000 for 200 signs. He said he bought one batch from a local sign-maker, then ordered the next at a lower price from an out-of-state supplier.

"They're gouging people in town," he said. "They're really booked up."

Livaudais said his prices had been fairly steady since the hurricane, but that he'd had to make adjustments because the dicey post-hurricane transportation system meant that he was unable to send out some of the jobs he usually outsourced.

Livaudais said most of his customers knew the signs were against city ordinances in New Orleans and its suburbs but that they still asked for them—by name.

"You know what they call them? Bandit signs," he said. "They'll say, `You know, the signs that are illegal.'"

Darren Chifici, part-owner of Deanie's Seafood, said the restaurant and seafood market had put out about 500 signs. He said Deanie's needed to let people know that its branch in Metairie had opened, and his options for reaching his customers were limited.

"All the other forms of advertising are really expensive at this point," he said.

Livaudais printed a batch of signs for his own business, but decided against displaying them because he already has enough work for his patchwork staff.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-STORMS-SIGNS

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