Tavern's patriotic banner causes flap in Yelm

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 Friday 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 business’ 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 business’s Facebook page Wednesday, confirming that the White Horse 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 that were 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 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.

Jill Markham of Yelm said, “This is a military town. The city should realize this.” She added that the banner was clearly in preparation for the Fourth of July, and compared it with Christmas lights. Markham, whose daughter worked at the White Horse, said she appreciates the business’s support of patriotic values.

“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.”