Playing chicken, one more time

Larry Van GuilderOn the Grow, West Knox

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations possess the same rights as ordinary folks, they probably didn’t have this in mind: Chick-fil-A, purveyors of the world’s first and only evangelical poultry patty, is suffering from memory loss, much like other “people.”

This isn’t like forgetting where you put your car keys, more like corporate-grade dementia. How else to explain its already-in-motion plan to erect a towering pole sign at its Homberg Drive location after this 2012 email from Getra Thomason at the company’s Atlanta headquarters:

“To Mayor Rogero, City Councilman Grieve and Neighborhood Units: Thank you for sharing the concerns of the Bearden community with us about the placement of our approved high-rise sign at our new Homberg Drive restaurant location. Chick-fil-A Inc. along with our local franchised operator, Eddie Halliday, have agreed to modify the approved sign to a much lower height and monument style. Our first and primary goal is for our restaurants to be in an engaged and supporting business relationship in all the local communities we serve….”

The penitent note followed a flood of protests from residents and local civic groups including Scenic Knoxville, the Bearden Council, and elected officials including then-council member Duane Grieve and Mayor Madeline Rogero about Chick-fil-A’s 2011 plan to erect a 50-ft. pole sign at the location. What’s changed? Only the passage of seven years.

Joyce Feld, president of Scenic Knoxville, says she was “pretty much taken aback and disappointed” this weekend when she saw a pole being installed. Those who look favorably on certain of Chick-fil-A’s ethical ideals, like closing on Sunday, may also be disappointed. Granted, the “promise” in the 2012 email is only implied, but “an engaged and supporting business relationship in…local communities” shouldn’t be practiced only when it’s convenient to do so.

Feld noted a monument sign marks the Chick-fil-A location at Kingston Overlook. Despite the lack of a pole sign, the restaurant is so busy that parking is next to impossible to find and drive-thru traffic backs up on Kingston Pike.

No pole, no problem. This monument sign at Kingston Overlook draws overflow customers.

The company is privately held, and its locations are franchised, so financial information isn’t available. But it’s safe to say that millions of dollars in sales have rung the Homberg Place cash registers without the benefit of a pole sign up until now.

We were unable to contact Eddie Halliday, and Feld said her emails to Getra Thomason have gone unanswered. A young employee in Bearden knew of the plan to erect the sign, adding that the entrance and exit were to be revamped as well. The latter is unconfirmed as was his evaluation of the plans: “Cool.”

What isn’t cool is Chick-fil-A’s intention to ignore the feelings of the community as well as the import of its own words. “I’m sure it’s legally permitted,” Feld said of the pole sign. But so was segregation at one time, and it was ugly, too.

Write to Larry Van Guilder at

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