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Signs of the Times

There’s nothing worse than a bad sign. Ok, well, maybe there are some worse things, but a bad sign is a telltale sign that someone just didn’t care about whatever it is (or was) that they are promoting. Take a walk down Hertel or Elmwood, or any street for that matter, and take a look at the signs on the storefronts and on the buildings. There are some terrible signs out there, many of which are temporarily permanent in nature (and I’m not talking about the lame law firm billboards). To think that some businesses put up banners as signs, or even crayon and marker signs that look like they took about five minutes to prepare – it’s actually embarrassing.

Occasionally you will find a building owner, or business owner, who really cares about a sign. Take the block of Hertel where the North Park Theatre is. That entire block has got great looking signs that speak of pride! Every commercial district could learn a lesson from that block.

Historically speaking, Buffalo is a city that once took great pride in sign-making (see inset image of the Elephant Joe sign making shop. You can still see remnants of hand-painted signs throughout the city. Some of those signs have even been restored. Signs speak wonders about a city. They tell stories. They showcase artistic talents. They draw attention to buildings and the businesses that occupy them.

Somewhere along the line we lost sight of the intrinsic nature of signs. Take a look at the corner stores that pop up in our neighborhoods – display windows covered with bad signs… you can’t even see into the businesses. Why would you want to support a shop like that? Yes, a good sign costs some money, but it’s money well spent (take Cantina Loco for example). Savoy on Elmwood is another great example. There are excellent examples of thoughtful signage in this city (see lead image – Crowley Webb). Unfortunately at the same time the city is rife with poor examples too.

On Friday, April 4, The Buffalo Small Press Book Fair presents a free screening of Sign Painters: The Movie. This event will take place  at 7:30pm at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington Street in downtown Buffalo. Visit for more information. Here’s a preview of the movie:


Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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