Saturday, December 26, 2020

Lights Out 2020: Signs We Lost This Year

2020 has been cataclysmic for the kinds of businesses featured on this blog.  Sure enough, this year's New York neon casualties count a number of pandemic-related business closures among them: two of them are among the lost businesses featured on the cover of the 12/7/2020 issue of New York Magazine.  Yet somewhat surprisingly, this year's roster of lost neon storefronts is not much out of step with that of previous years.  For those of us who have long bemoaned the loss of New York's independent storefront businesses in the face of soaring rent hikes, it comes as a bit of a curveball to find their survival now threatened by an extreme of under-stimulation that is the very opposite of the hypergentrification that had been their leading cause of death up to now.  One wonders if perhaps the reason this year's list isn't longer than it is might be taken to mean that even a global pandemic is less toxic for such businesses than a typical year's worth of crushing rent-hikes - in other words, if the mandated shutdowns wound up canceling out the lethal effect of the rent-hikes that normally kill off these businesses.  

That said, the devastating effect of the pandemic shut-downs is far from over.  Particularly for bars and restaurants, it is not just the old neighborhood stalwarts that need our support - it is everything under the sun.  

As always, this year's roundup includes some businesses that closed before 2020, but that only came to my attention this year.  Not listed are some non-neon favorite storefronts we lost, like Gem Spa, John Jovino, the Paris Cafe, or Frank's Cocktail Lounge in Brooklyn.  Nor the ancient R32-series "Brightliner" subway cars that the MTA pulled out of service (but then briefly resurrected) after 56 years with nary a mention.  And the "ones to watch" list is enormously abbreviated - in reality it could include just about every neon storefront in town.  In 2021, it will be incumbent on us to look for ways to help one another get back on our feet again as this (hopefully) uniquely difficult year recedes in our wake. 

Palomba Academy of Music, 974 East Gun Hill Road, Bronx
The Bronx's Palomba Academy of Music had been a neighborhood anchor since the 1950s, but closed down permanently when in-person music lessons became impossible during the pandemic.  Happily, the sign has been preserved at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati (with help from Let There Be Neon and photographers James & Karla Murray), but the museum can still use some support towards its restoration. 

One Penn Plaza, 242 W34th St., Manhattan
The big neon "1" atop this midtown office tower quietly disappeared this year. Though not especially old (the building itself dates from the early 1970s), it was nonetheless one of the largest neon installations in town and one of very few illuminated signs on the New York skyline.  

New Corner Restaurant, 7201 8th Ave, Brooklyn
Brooklyn's New Corner restaurant was a neighborhood anchor that traced its origins to 1936; its third generation family owners decided it was time to retire in the face of the protracted difficulties of running a dine-in restaurant amid pandemic business closures. 

Spruce Florist, 222 8th Avenue, Manhattan
Most recently operated as Spruce Florist, this Chelsea flower shop had earlier been known as Village Florist and earlier still as Nick Case Florist. It had occupied the same 8th Avenue storefront since at least the 1930s until it finally closed around 2017.  The sign hung around for a few more years before it finally disappeared in December.  I am happy to report that it has found its way to a collector who plans to restore it to its former glory.  

Loeser's Deli, 214 W 231st St, Bronx
This Kingsbridge Kosher deli had been a neighborhood stalwart since 1960.  It appears to have closed permanently at the end of 2019 owing to a buildings department gas line snafu.   

Health Wise Pharmacy, 1494 York Ave., Manhattan
The Upper East Side's Health Wise Pharmacy ditched its circa-1960 neon in favor of plastic-faced LED signs early in 2020.  Its lovely script window sign had already vanished, the result of a stray taxi that launched itself through the storefront back in 2016.  

Quinn Funeral Home, 35-20 Broadway, Manhattan
Astoria's landmark Quinn funeral home decamped to Woodside in late 2018, and the bell has since tolled for its lovely script raceway sign.  

Miller's Prescriptions, 173 Broad St, Staten Island
Miller's is still around but I'm sorry to report that they ditched one of Staten Island's very last neon storefront signs for more LED plastic bleh, which as far as I know leaves just one historic neon storefront on all of the Island.  


Clover Delicatessen, 621 2nd Ave., Manhattan
Clover was just about everyone's favorite.  Located near the east midtown hospitals, they became a kind of a mascot for many of the frontline workers who trudged back and forth along 34th Street on their way to and from work, and for the neighborhood at large, which they served through three generations of family ownership.  Alas, citing a downturn in traffic and the general difficulties of running a business during the pandemic, the owners decided it was time to bow-out and Clover quietly closed in the summer of 2020.  The family owns the building and is hoping to lease the storefront to a business that might want to keep the signs right where they have been since they were installed in 1956, so stay tuned on this one. 

Flat Fixed, 14 E23rd St, Manhattan
One of New York's more vivacious neon storefronts, the restaurant that most recently operated under the name "Flat Fixed" closed up shop amid the pandemic, leaving for-lease banners under those darkened signs. These signs are a bit of a mystery; the vertical BAR sign appears to have been installed here for a business called the Metro Tavern in 1941. The horizontal raceway sign looks to be from the 1950s. Here's hoping a new occupant will set these things aglow again soon.

Trailer Park, 271 W 23rd St., Manhattan
Though not old-old, Chelsea's Trailer Park was part restaurant, part museum, and one of the few spots that seemed to stay afloat more than a few years in a neighborhood that has been an epicenter of high rent blight lately.  Its lovely signs are the work of Roadhouse Relics of Austin, Texas.  It's one of several places that have remained closed-up tight since the first pandemic shutdowns went into effect in March.  

Fedora Restaurant, 239 West 4th St., Manhattan
Both restaurant and sign at Fedora were recent reincarnations of the originals, which had been fixtures here from 1952 until their owner - the beloved Fedora Dorato - retired in 2010 at the age of 90.  The restaurant subsequently reopened as a sort of updated tribute to its former self, in a sequence of events that seemed to be a trend for neon-crowned stalwarts in Greenwich Village at that time (n.b. the cases of Minetta Tavern, Rocco Restaurant  Cold comfort, perhaps, for those of us who loved these places as they were, but the owners kept the signs (or facsimiles thereof) shining and there was something to be said for that, particularly now as the Fedora reboot has become another casualty of the pandemic.  Whatever comes next, let's hope it keeps this neon landmark of the Village right where it has been for the past 68 years.


We would be remiss to let the year pass without noting one bit of good news, which was the rescue of incredibly old Neir's Tavern in Woodside, Queens, rescued from the brink of extinction by a groundswell of community support just before the pandemic hit.  Though not neon, this is still a cheerful story that might serve as a useful case study as rescue efforts become the order of the day in the year to come.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Neon News & Links / April 2020 - Part 2

Some bits and pieces of neon news here to help pass your springtime quarantine and give us all something to look forward to on the other side of the COVID-19 lockdown.  

(Frere Jones)

• Have you heard about the fabulous resurrection of the Essex Market sign on Manhattan's Lower East Side AND the new font it inspired? It's a story that warrants its own in-depth blog post and that's just what it gets via the graphic designers Frere Jones.

(Ephemeral New York)

• From the Ephemeral New York blog, we pause to admire the loveliness of Veniero's Pasticceria and its neon. 


• In Brooklyn, the Turk's Inn has brought some vintage Wisconsin neon to Bushwick.  


• From the this-sounds-almost-quaint-in-our-current-dystopian-reality department: "New York is Allowing Developers to Kill The City" looks at three neon-crowned mainstays that hit the chopping block in 2019. 

(Old Salt Blog)

• From the related subjects department - New York State has banned giant Times Square-style floating billboards from circulating around the harbor on barges. 

(Sign Of The Time / Instagram)

• On Manhattan's Upper East Side, Healthwise Pharmacy has ditched its neon and gone LED.  

(NY Post)

• From the NY Post, a look at Times Square's ongoing LED-ification

(Atlas Obscura)

• Via Atlas Obscura: a celebration of Berlin's vanishing commercial typography


• A status check on Seattle's vintage neon, via Crosscut: "The city's most iconic signs are losing their vaunted glow to LED replacements. But not everyone is giving up on neon." 


• From the why-not department, via Buzzfeed: "Finding Your Soulmate Based On The Neon Signs You Choose." 


• From, a deep dive into the fake neon trend (reported on in this blog back in 2018) in graphic design. 

(Debra Jane Seltzer /

 Debra Jane Seltzer has been making the rounds updating her encyclopedic, coast-to-coast documentation of signs and ephemeral architecture.  The news is predictably not good but the findings are as fascinating as they are heart wrenching, and, as with all of Debra Jane's output, meticulously organized.  Some updates by category: 

   - Midcentury Modern Architecture

   - Signs from Arizona to California 
   - Signs from Florida to Louisiana
   - Roadside Architecture - Gas Stations and Eateries
   - Car Dealers, Giant Animals, and Miscellany


• And finally, something to look forward to, we hope: this September, the third annual Neon Speaks symposium is still on in San Francisco. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Neon News & Links / April 2020 - Part 1

I suspect I am not alone in having secretly longed for some kind of mandatory downtime to come along and keep me corralled at home with nothing to do but catch up on a long list of backlogged projects. Cleaning out the linen closet, finally cookin' up those hotdogs that have been peeking out at me from the back of the freezer for the past decade, and - yes - whipping up a post or two for the old neon blog.  Pandemic wasn't quite what I had in mind, but - well folks, here we are.  As I write this (April 2020) there's no telling how long our Covid-19 sequester will last - long enough, at least, to check-in on a few neon news items, starting here with part one of at least two. Enjoy these in good health and solitude. 


• Covid-19 might get you in the lungs, but this one's coming straight for your gut: the landmark Coffee Shop sign on Union Square is gone.  The Coffee Shop shuttered in 2018 in the face of a crushing rent hike. After months sitting empty, the space finally revived (if you can call it that) as a Chase Bank branch in late 2019.  When the old sign, a favorite of many, disappeared just before New Year's, some of us crossed our fingers that it might just be out for restoration.  Alas, this was too good to hope for: a plastic-faced LED sign appeared in its place.  As a tribute to its predecessor, the new sign is salt in the wound, arguably worse than nothing at all. In a fateful twist (of the knife), the shuttered eatery had opened decades ago as the Chase Coffee Shop, an irony attested to by script lettering cast into its vestibule floor.  Of course, Chase (the bank) got rid of that, too.

Chase then and now. (T. Rinaldi) 

(Jeremiah's Vanishing NY)

• Last summer New York lost its cherished Paris Theatre, then got it back again a few weeks later, reincarnated as a special screening venue for Netflix. 

(Business Insider)

• Via the Jeremiah's Vanishing NY blog: De Robertis' Pastry Shop disappeared back in 2014 and last year so too did its timeworn relic sign

(Jeremiah's Vanishing NY)

• Bad news downtown: Forlini's, Little Italy's long standing last gasp below Canal Street, is likely to close this year, as reported by Eater in January 2020. 


• From the not-neon-but-still-cool department: Photographer Arthur Riley's Dash to Document Every Diner in New York (via Preservation Mag Online). 

(Preservation Online)

• Via the Ephemeral NY Blog: a remembrance of New York's vanished network of neon-encrusted McAnn's Bars. 

( via Ephemeral NY)

• In upstate NY, Coxsackie's triple-screen Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre is up for sale

(Kingston Daily Freeman)

• From way out west: meet Bea Haverfield, designer of iconic signs in midcentury Seattle (via the Seattle Times).

(Seattle Times)

• From the king's ransom department: a neon-lit boot from the vanished Regal Shoe chain has turned up on eBay


• Feeling cooped up? Now might be a great time for a virtual road trip with Debra Jane Seltzer, inimitable documentarian of signs and roadside architecture. Debra Jane piloted her trusty van Sparkle on a 29-day road trip last year from Louisiana to Oklahoma, publishing the outtakes in a series of blog posts starting last June. "I put another 12,519 miles on Sparkle's odometer (nearly 500,000 now).  That's an average of about 417 miles per day.  I took more than 4,000 photos.  I spent $2231 on gas (about $74 per day).  Granted, Sparkle only gets about 17mpg but when you're traveling with four dogs & you need the space for clothes, human/dog supplies & other stuff, you gotta suck that up." You can track the trip by starting with this kick-off post and following along with the series that follow.  And check out Debra Jane's what's new page at her main web archive. 


• From the Shorpy blog, a nationwide roundup of scenes from the neon-lit past, most of them captured by photographers shooting under the auspices of the federal government's WPA-era Farm Security and Resettlement administrations in the lead-up to WWII:  

San Joaquin Valley, CA, 1939
Pierre, SD, 1940
Grand Forks, ND, 1940
Michigan, ND, 1937
Des Moines, 1940
Dubuque, 1940
Corpus Christi, 1939
New Orleans, 1940
Clarksdale, MS, 1940
Alexandria, LA, 1940
Bardstown, KY, 1940
Saginaw, MI, 1941
Orlando, FL, 1955

• Check out NEON SPECTACULAR: JAPAN, a Kickstarter project by Kody Shafer who has set out to document Japan's famous neon-lit commercial landscape as it fades to LED. 

(Neon Spectacular: Japan / Kickstarter)

• From KQED in San Francisco, a videographic appreciation of the signs by the bay.  

(KQED / YouTube)

• And finally, wrapping up on an up-beat bit of New York neon news: a happy development in the on-again-off-again restoration of the Loft's Candies storefront on Nassau Street in Lower Manhattan, whose neon tubes are back in place. We'll be keeping tabs for more on this as it continues to develop. 

(Let There Be Neon / Instagram) 

That's all for Part 1.  Thanks to all who sent me tip-offs for the above.  Stay well, stay safe, stay home and stay tuned for more neon news later this month. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Lights Out 2019: Signs We Lost This Year

I'm a little behind the ball in getting out 2019's list of vanished signs. Better late than never, as I like to say. (To which my high school history teacher would answer "better never late.")  Here I must add the usual caveat that this listing isn't strictly limited to signs that disappeared in 2019, but to signs that I noticed had disappeared during the year - In other words, some may have vanished earlier.  With that, let's begin our dirge. 

J&L Liquors, 34th Street, Manhattan 
This age-old midtown liquor emporium lost its fantastic Futura-esque neon lettering to LED-lit knockoffs that more or less approximated their predecessors.  The liquor store survives, but the sign has now been completely replaced with a new backlit panel contraption leaving not the slightest suggestion of anything special ever having come before.

Xcellent DVD, 515 6th Ave., Manhattan 
This outpost of old-world smut survives on 6th Ave just below 14th Street, but it has kissed its neon goodbye in favor of more el-blando LED crap.

Jolson's Liquors, 22-24 31st St., Astoria, Queens
Beaming out from under the elevated, Jolson's extra-likable variant of the classic neon LIQUOR storefront seemed to be here for the long haul, with those jaunty letters rendered in four strokes of flawless red neon.  Sadly Jolson's has yielded this storefront to a new Taco Bell franchise. 

DeRobertis Pasticceria, 176 First Av., Manhattan
DeRobertis packed up a few years ago but left its old sign behind as a reminder of this pasticceria's 110-year tenure here on Manhattan's east side.  Alas, the sign has now followed the business into oblivion.  

Pore House of Bay Ridge, 7901 3rd Av., Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
The bar is still there but this old porcelain enamel and stainless steel beauty has vanished from its perch over Third Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Boulevard Tavern, 575 Meeker Av., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Williamsburg's Boulevard Tavern vanished back in 2015 and its fantastic, pre-WWII-era sign has now disappeared too.  A plywood placard advertising a new bar hangs in its place. 

Fort Washington Florist, 4257 Broadway, Manhattan
Simple two-stroke neon tracing classic midcentury letterforms marked the Fort Washington Florist as one of the oldest businesses in the neighborhood. Both are gone now. 

Sofia Bros Moving, 4396 Broadway, Washington Heights, Manhattan
Way-on-away-uptown, this splash of redletter neon brightened the unadorned facade of an old brick storage warehouse on the upper reaches of Broadway.  The building and the business both survive, but that old brick facade is unadorned now.  

Sabatino Funeral Home, 321 Avenue U, Gravesend, Brooklyn
Sabatino's is still with us and so is one of its matched pair of signs, which formerly faced both directions down Avenue U in Gravesend, Brooklyn.  One of the twin signs has disappeared to make way for new construction on the lot next door.  Some of the very finest script lettering in town. 

Langdon Florist, 62 Reade St., Manhattan 
After 71 years in business, Tribeca's Langdon Florist packed up and moved out to Staten Island in 2018, taking its neon with it.  The restored sign now hangs inside their new showroom at the corner Victory Blvd and Clove Road.  Langdon's old Manhattan storefront remains empty at last check. 

Coney Island Bialy Bakery, 2359 Coney Island Av., Brooklyn 
After a near death experience back in 2011, New York's oldest bialy shop finally bit the dust for good circa 2016, yielding its storefront to an offbrand cell phone shop.    

Beacon Wine & Spirits, 2120 Broadway, Manhattan 
Beacon Wine & Spirits on the Upper West Side has ditched its finely proportioned neon storefront sign in favor of more plastic-wrapped LED schlock. 

IC Liquors, 2255 First Av., Manhattan
Veteran East Harlem liquor purveyor IC Liquors has moved from its longtime home near the corner of First Ave and East 116th Street, leaving this fabulous old vertical sign orphaned.  Sign still there at last check but the future is not bright for this uptown commercial landmark.  

Stratford Fuel, 1162 East Tremont Av., Bronx
Though I never saw it lit, I loved the idea of a neon sign beaming the simple word FUEL out into the nocturnal East Tremont landscape.  Sad to report, this circa-1952 product of the Grauer Sign Co no longer figures into the daytime streetscape either, having vanished sometime after its last Google Streetview cameo in 2015.   

Union Square Coffee Shop, 29 Union Sq. West, Manhattan
And finally ... 2019's most noteworthy neon casualty was one of everyone's favorites: the almost-famous Coffee Shop sign on Union Square.  Here since 1960, the sign survived at least three incarnations of the restaurant it advertised, until the place finally went belly-up in the face of another rent hike in 2018.  When news broke that a Chase bank would take over the space, some of us withheld our eye-rolls in hopes that the sign might somehow survive. No such luck:  Chase replaced it with a fake-neon LED sign that as a tribute to its predecessor is truly worse than nothing. You may now proceed with your eye-rolling.