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Noble Signs revives vanishing art of classic New York street signage

BROUKLIN, New York – Radio City Music Hall. Katz’s Delicatessen. Nathan is on Coney Island.

If you close your eyes and depict New York’s favorite locations, this image will always have a banner, which often glows with neon.

But somewhere in the line, many New York billboards became boring and predictable. The creative spark was gone, replaced by functional though gentle creations, often just a vinyl awning.

“The city we grew up in was full of really amazing signs,” says David Barnett, co-founder. Gentle Signs in Brooklyn, “and when we left college, the city was heading in a very different direction.”

Barnett, who paid the bills as a post-college graphic designer, and his friend McPohanka, a construction worker, both mourned the loss of the showcase legacy that gave New York so much of its character. They received their nostalgia for the way things were as a sign.

“We had friends who were restaurant owners or managers who knew we were doing these things and they asked us to make labels for them,” says Pohanka.

Noble Signs was born in 2013 and since then, the two friends have been putting on striking colors and restoring the dazzling neon lights throughout the city, one window at a time.

As the business took off and they gained more experience, the team began to think beyond the sign.

“Early on, we realized that making holistic showcases was a better approach to it,” says Pohanka. “It’s not just a sign.”

Ace’s Pizza in Williamsburg is a testament to this all-in strategy. Noble not only designed and built the marquee, but also hand-painted the glass in front and created tones inside the pizzeria for a uniform look, including a mascot.

From mom and pop stores to the New York Aquarium on Coney Island, Noble Signs makes its mark across the city, often in large, colorful letters. But it is the passion, not the profit, that drives this business.

“One of the big things for us as a company was when we started working with The Pickle Guys,” says Barnett.

Formerly Guss’ Pickles, this legendary facility on the Lower East Side was a favorite station of the Barnett family as a child, so when given the opportunity to work with them, it was brushed and ready.

“With them we found a partner with whom we aligned ourselves ideologically,” says Barnett. “They see what they do as a public service. You don’t start making labels or pickles to get rich.”

Nearly a decade deep in their journey, Barnett and Pohanka embark on their most ambitious work to date, and it’s a project reminiscent of why Noble Signs was founded.

“We are in the process of creating a signage museum in New York as a non-profit organization,” says Pohanka.

“We are trying to save the marks and I would say the success rate is at most 20 percent,” says Barnett.

With vintage signage coming back, due to the growing awareness that photographers have sparked on social media, Barnett says many of the signs they seek for the museum never end up in their hands because the owners either exchange them for big money at private sales or just throw them away.

“Our hope is that once it is installed, the signs will come to us,” Barnett told the museum. ».

Whether they focus on curating the museum or expanding the business, the goal is as clear as day, just like the roaring neon that these two helped us get back to the city.

“We want to bring back to the world as many cool signs as possible,” says Barnett. “It’s really that simple.”

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