Jeff Rosenblum, the owner of Jay's Pedal Power on Girard Avenue, has a graffiti-style ad painted on the wall next to his bike shop. It shows young people dancing in a party setting while they drink malt liquor. It features the Colt 45 slogan: "Works every time."
Rosenblum said he had reviewed the design beforehand and "personally did not see anything offensive."
But the city says ads like that one, placed by Pabst Brewing Co. around Fishtown and South Street, are illegal because they were put up without permission and wants them taken down.
"I think it's totally silly," Rosenblum said of the complaints. He said the city and civic organizations should go after big billboards and leave small-business operators like himself alone.
The mural-like ads, for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and Colt 45 malt liquor, appear to be part of a national marketing campaign by Pabst Brewing Co.
Several business operators said that they were paid to have the ads painted on their buildings and that they were told or assumed the ads were legal.
However, the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections said they are breaking the law.
Spokeswoman Gayle Johns said the agency had cited Pabst Brewing Co. and four locations so far and was investigating at least six other properties. If the ads aren't removed, the agency may taken the violators to court.
Johns said that the advertisements violate zoning restrictions and that Pabst did not obtain variances for its wall paintings.
L&I was alerted to the ads by a watchdog group that fights the proliferation of outdoor advertising.
"You need more than the permission of the building's owner. You need the permission of the city," said Mary Tracy, executive director of SCRUB, which stands for Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight.
Several years ago, SCRUB targeted graffiti-style ads put up by Sony for its PlayStation Portable video-game system. The city forced the company to remove the ads.
Tracy said she considers the Pabst campaign to be a similar "guerrilla marketing" effort.
An operator at Pabst, which is headquartered in Illinois, said that the company would respond only via e-mail. There was no response yesterday to an e-mail request for comment.
Three business operators who have the ads said they were unaware of any complaints.
But urban community leaders have criticized ads for malt liquor, which are often located in minority neighborhoods. Malt liquor has a higher alcohol content and can be bought for cheap in 40-ounce bottles.
"This is the kind of thing you wouldn't put in a wealthy neighborhood," Tracy said.
She said her group's complaint was focused on the legal issue, not the message. But "when you have alcohol, it kind of stings a little harder than other products," she said.
She also called it an "outrage" for the brewing company to mimic the city's murals for its marketing of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
"They think as long as they paid someone to do their advertising, it's OK - regardless of the laws, regardless of the neighborhood's sentiment," she said.
Maria Katotriotis, whose family owns George's Pizza at American Street and Girard Avenue, said the eatery entered into a three-month contract with a firm representing Pabst to have a mural-like Pabst Blue Ribbon painting on the shop.
She declined to say how much her family was paid, but said the firm - whose name she could not recall - told them that "everything is done legally."
All three businesses said they were being paid to have the ads up for three months. Vijay Kalola, manager of Penn Treaty Food Market at Frankford and Girard Avenues, said that his Colt 45 ad had been up more than three months and that he unsuccessfully had tried to get it removed.
He said he was paid $350 to have the ad painted on his store. He said no one had complained to him about the ad and suggested that if SCRUB is upset with it, "tell the organization to come and paint [over] it."
Colin Thomson, 29, a Fishtown resident, said he had "noticed the recent proliferation of these ads" and been bothered by them.
He added, "I will not patronize those who have chosen to make our neighborhood a bit uglier."
Bob Sola, 36, who lives on Palmer Street around the corner from the bike shop, said the Colt 45 ad was "wrong on so many levels."
Sola, a school counselor, said the graffiti-style painting was meant to appeal to children.
"It's obviously not geared to a 35-year-old man," he said.
He was also upset with the bike shop, calling the decision to put up the ad "inconsiderate."
"I'll never buy another thing from Jay's Pedal Power," Sola said.
"People in the neighborhood have to stand up," he said, "or your neighborhood will look like crap."