I’m about to declare a New England neon emergency.
Last week I wrote about two endangered Massachusetts neon signs — the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus and Lord’s department store in Medfield. Now another restaurant is closing and its neon sign is in danger of going dark forever. Local media outlets have reported that Ida’s, an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End, has closed and a local restaurateur has purchased the site. Also shuttered is fragrance and pharmacy store Colonial Drug, which has left its long-term home in Harvard Square for Newton. And, of course, the sign at the Circle Cinemas on the Brighton-Brookline border is at risk of falling to a new development on the the former theater’s site.
Maybe the timing is just coincidence, but it sure feels like a trend. Stores and restaurants in place for more than half a century are packing up and leaving. And the neon signs once designed to attract diners and customers are left behind, their once-bright lights dark and their fate unknown.
For our project to save the sign at the Circle Cinemas, sociologist Susan Legere and I interviewed Arthur Krim. He is a founding member of the Society for Commercial Archeology and a force behind past efforts to save Boston’s CITGO sign. Krim spoke eloquently about the importance of preserving these artifacts of twentieth-century commercial history and placed them firmly in the centuries-old tradition of wayfinding signage.
These signs are also personal. Even when dark they can trigger memories of people and places and happier times. Of birthday dinners and first dates and weekends away. But many are at risk of quietly disappearing. And once they’re gone, the memories they evoke will slowly fade as well.
As I said, it’s beginning to feel like a neon emergency.
(And, as always, you can visit my Etsy shop to find my photos of many Boston-area neon signs.)