The owner of a Yelm tavern got a letter from the city recently telling him his patriotic banner — a series of triangular stars-and-stripes flags tacked along the outside of the building — was out of compliance with the city’s sign code. And then, the issue hit Facebook.

Share story

Red tape has entangled the red, white, and blue Fourth of July banner that decorates the front of a historic Yelm tavern.

When Kyle Phillips, the owner of the White Horse Tavern, got a letter last week from the city telling him his patriotic banner — a series of triangular stars-and-stripes flags tacked along the outside of the building — was out of compliance with the city’s sign code, he posted his dismay on the tavern’s Facebook page.

Outrage quickly spread, with more than 1,400 shares and 700-plus comments, and 188,000 views.

“I would say the 99.9 percent of my customers were a little upset the city overlooked the (special event) exemption” to the code, Phillips said.

It was a mistake, said Yelm Mayor Ron Harding. Harding posted a reply to the White Horse Facebook page Wednesday, confirming that the tavern could continue to display the banner without penalty.

Yelm’s sign code exempts the American flag and decorations for holidays and special events, Harding said.

“I freely admit that our staff member made a mistake,” Harding said. The tavern’s letter was one of about 20 sent to businesses, telling them that their signs were out of compliance. The letter included suggestions on how to comply, Harding said. Some other businesses had banners that were not patriotic, Harding said.

“It’s just one of those things that became a victim of impression on Facebook,” Harding said, adding it created the false impression that the city was not patriotic.

Meanwhile, the tavern, which has been in Yelm, Thurston County, since 1892, continues to display the patriotic decorations. Phillips, who bought and renamed the business five years ago, said he decorates for all the holidays.

Even with the patriotic banner, the tavern is inconspicuous on Yelm’s main drag, lined with businesses with reader boards, feather signs, lamp post banners and sign boards.

“We can make mistakes, but as long as I am mayor, we will own up to them when proven wrong,” Harding posted. He added, “Patriotism is well-represented in the Yelm community and beyond, as it should be, and for that I am grateful.”