Open signs: we see them every day. Most are made of neon, and they glow in storefront windows. Others rapidly blink on and off, designed to draw the attention of those passing by letting them know they are welcome to come in and shop. Some, hanging in the window of a rundown building on a dark deserted street, softly illuminate the sidewalks in front, much like a distant headlight of a midnight train. Some magically spell out the ”open” letters in a variety of colors. Others, like LED types, are so bright and colorful that they stand out on a cloudless sunny day. Many that hang on a closed-door are pre-printed, made of simple plastic or laminated cardboard that can be purchased at the local hardware or office supply store.
There’s an entirely different type of open sign I see while riding the streets of Detroit. Those are the crudely hand painted versions I spot leaning against buildings, sign poles, fire hydrants and other stationary objects near an open business. Those types of grass root signs are some of my favorites. The signs of that type are cobbled together from discarded weathered plywood, or old flat wooded panels that may be found in a 1970’s basement. A-Frame stand-alone open signs, ones that may have carried a different message in a earlier life, now block the sidewalk in front of the open store. They usually have an arrow pointing to a door.
The lettering on these one-of-a-kind, stand-alone open signs can be interesting. Most appear to be painted with a cheap, wide brush designed for large applications. Because of that, the wording on some of them may have dripped, creating a jumble of hard to read individual letters. The colors used on these beauties are usually basic white, black or red; nothing fancy. In some cases, dark paint was used on dark boards, making them a challenge to read. I find these one-of-a-kind, loosely painted open signs (and others) intriguing. It’s as if they represent a sub-culture of grass root entrepreneurship that is part of the history and soul of Detroit.