Signs of the times.
Over the years, some people have asked about the signs I had outside my store and, like just about everything else, there’s always a story. In my early years, when my only business was doing guitar repair and restoration, all of which I did myself, I had no signs at all. My first location was in a storefront, which I was also living in the back of, on the Lower East Side. Hippie years of the mid-1960s, and who would want a sign outside their home? Besides it never even occurred to me. After that I had space in two different lofts in Chelsea, not at street level and again, I never thought about it. My business in all those years was entirely by word of mouth, reputation, and I had more work than I could handle, just like today. Again, sign? Really? What for? When I opened my first store, on Bedford Street in 1969, it still didn't occur to me to have a sign as there, too, business was all by word of mouth and reputation and we had more than enough, were quite content. But Eddie Diehl, a wonderful jazz guitarist who was also helping with repairs at the time, changed all that. Eddie was also quite an accomplished artist and he designed, built, and painted the pointing-finger sign seen here as a surprise gift for me, which I still have and treasure. We hung it in the window, never got around to putting it up outside. When I moved to the much more well-trafficked Bleecker street in 1977, my good friend Sarina Bromberg (sister of guitarist David Bromberg) who was also an accomplished artist, insisted on designing a real outdoor sign for me, which we had made for us by the last remaining hand-done porcelain-enamel sign factory around, in Lansdale, PA. Going there was a trip in itself, with the lone worker remaining in that cavernous, ancient place being the elderly owner, who cut out the pattern on paper from Sarina’s drawing by hand and set up and baked the sign his own self. We kept that sign up at that second location and at our third and final store location for about thirty years, until we replaced it with a very au courant awning, also seen here. I dearly love that porcelain-enamel sign and it is mounted on my office wall to this day.
But wait, there’s more! In my early store years of the late 1960s and early 70s we had a few hastily hand-letterd signs up inside the store too, the most notable of which has since been copied in guitar stores with repair departments all over America (and I suspect elsewhere) but I’m quite sure we were first with it. It read: "Will everyone who wants his action as low as possible without buzzing please leave”. Some things never change. Later on, another one of our staff, who was quite the wag, put up several little signs of his own devising around the place, the most memorable of which, when we briefly carried a few hand-held percussion instruments read, with great artistic flourish: “Know your Carmen Miranda rights. You have the right to a choreographer. If you cannot afford a choreographer one will be appointed to you. YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BUY THESE WONDERFUL MARACAS FOR ONLY $14,95!”. And then there were the best best signs I ever had, hand-painted by an old-time sign painter who knew all about those temporary signs grocers used to put in their windows with things like “Special On Bananas This Week!”, on throwaway paper. We gave Lawrence El-Amin, who also did the beautiful gold-leaf lettering in my window, the wording that we wanted and told him to do whatever artwork he liked. I’ve saved every single one of these, a most wonderful example of which is below. You just gotta love that cowboy riding off into the sunset in the lower left corner.
Today, I really don’t have much need for a sign. After forty-eight years of retail I’m now quite happy with having come full circle back to where I started with restorations and repairs. I’m still in the same building my store was in for thirty-five years but on the second floor only, where the repair shop has always been. We have our own door from the street and it has one little sign on it, which is just right.