Paul Kieffer moved his shoe store to a spot near Hwy. 52 in Rochester so that people driving by could see it and, perhaps, stop.
But then in 2005, sound walls went up.
"By the time you see my store, you're past the exit," Kieffer said. "That's the problem."
So Kieffer, who has owned Rochester's Red Wing Shoe Store for 25 years, asked the Minnesota Department of Transportation, or MnDOT, for a small sign. The department said no. He appealed to a special committee. They said no, too. So Kieffer went to the Legislature -- again and again.
Kieffer argued that the barriers cut down on his sales by 15 percent. Before, "even 18-wheelers would have enough time to exit off," he said. After, making the exit would require risky, last-minute lane changes.
But MnDOT said that the sign Kieffer wanted was not allowed on freeways. Signs on such thoroughfares note things such as gas, food and lodging and are "geared toward motorists who are unfamiliar with the area," MnDOT's Peter Buchen told legislators at a committee meeting in March. "Traffic signing is not intended to be an advertising device."
Giving this business a sign would set a troubling precedent, he argued.
"If allowed, we anticipate that we would see a tremendous increase in requests for retail businesses," said Buchen, assistant state traffic engineer, "and we're not sure how we would be able to handle such a thing."
But legislators disagreed, and the little bill authored by Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, found its way into the transportation bill last session. Last month, Kieffer got his sign, which he paid for himself.
It's a small marker and says, simply, "RED WING SHOE STORE EXIT 58."
Kieffer is getting kudos at the athletic club. He understands transportation officials' concerns but believes that the circumstances are pretty specific. If MnDOT constructs sound walls that block businesses' visibility, he said, "they should give the businesses the right to a sign if they were there prior."