By Erik Sine
How A Utah Company Became Nevada's Go-To Shop For Neon
Ever since he was a young, Will Durham admits he’s had an affinity for neon. It’s hard not to when you grow up casino-studded town like Reno, Nevada.
“When I was a kid I had a hard time going to sleep and I would always see that glow of downtown Reno and the neon,” he says. “And I knew there was still action going on, and I wasn’t the last one awake. And I think that kind of sparked the interest.”
For the last two decades, Durham, who still lives in Reno, has been collecting vintage neon signs from old, retro-looking motels and roadside businesses — the kinds of places that seem to be disappearing across the desert West.
He’s had to rent space to store all the signs — 100 and counting — and his garage is stuffed with them, too. He has to carefully maneuver around to get to a wall plug to light them all up.
Among his signs, there’s a creepy clown, a couple of cowboys and a very happy man pulling a lever on a slot machine.
“You can see the coins falling, he’s actually winning,” he says.
He got that one from a place called the El Rancho in Wells, Nev., and he guesses it's probably 60-70 years old. Durham says there aren’t a lot of companies left doing this type of work, but there is one: the Young Electric Sign Company, or YESCO.
“They’re maybe the most prolific in Nevada, and they've been around a long time," he said.
Drive around Nevada long enough, and it’s impossible to have missed the work of the nearly century-old Young Electric Sign Company.
That “Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas” sign that tourists take selfies in front of? That’s YESCO. Reno’s arch? YESCO. The 40-foot Vegas Vic or Wendover Will cowboys with hundreds of feet of winding neon tubing? Also YESCO.
From billboards to office parks to the Las Vegas Strip, the company is one of the oldest manufacturers of commercial signs in the U.S. And although their signs are nearly synonymous with Vegas, they’re actually headquartered here in Utah.
Jeff Young is a third generation co-owner of YESCO. It was founded by his grandfather Thomas Young in Ogden in 1920. He gave a tour of their Salt Lake factory last year.
In the late 1920s, his grandfather saw an opportunity in a trendy new lighting technology made popular by a French engineer. So he applied for a license and got one of his first commissions: the Boulder Club in Las Vegas, in 1931.
“The race for signs in Vegas really started right there with with Thomas Young, Sr. and his license with neon and we've never stopped,” says Jeff Young. “And so you talk about where neon really started in the Intermountain West and in the western U.S., and really the roads kind of all lead back to Tom Young.”
Jeff Young and his two brothers now run the business, with more than 100 locations across the U.S. and in Canada. He says people are still surprised with they learn that some of the most iconic signs in Vegas came from a Utah company.
“Oh, there’s a great contrast there,” he says. “You have a fairly clean-cut family and a rather conservative community building the biggest, brightest, flashiest signs in the world.”
Inside their small neon shop in Salt Lake, neon bender Dave Corey blows into a small pipe that snakes into a glass tube he’s holding over an open flame. The pipe helps him keep the right amount of pressure so he can shape the tube into a curvy and alluring letter ‘B.’
“A lot of people think you're actually blowing glass," he says. "But for the most part you're not really blowing into the tube. When the heat heats the air that's inside the tube, it expands.”
Corey has worked for YESCO for 30 years. He’s often thinking in the third dimension when figuring out how to make a sign into one seamless piece.
Neon makes up only 10 percent of their business today, and most of that is for servicing and repairing older signs. LEDs are what most businesses want. Not only do they use less power and last longer, but companies can easily program them to swap out their graphics or messaging.
Young says it’s also harder to find people who can invest the time to learn a trade like neon, which can take years.
“Dave’s skill at bending is just phenomenal,” says Young. “We hate to say neon is a dying art, but the reality is it's hard to find a Dave in this world of ours. And it's harder harder to find people who are really good at this trade.”
Will Durham, the Reno neon collector, says it’s an artform worth preserving. Part of it is nostalgia, he admits, but aesthetically, neon’s soft colors and sinuous curves are just more pleasing to the eye. He’s currently fundraising in hopes of establishing a permanent home for his collection.
“You're never going to see these neon extravaganzas again," he says. "Like the 150-foot sign with miles and miles of pulsing neon, you’re never going to see that again.”
But that won’t stop Durham from collecting what’s left of them. And it won’t stop YESCO’s Dave Corey from bending away in his small workshop in Salt Lake.
By Erik Sine
YESCO, A Custom Electric Sign Company Founded Nearly 100 Years Ago, Will Be Featured on CBS's Hit Series, "Undercover Boss," Friday, Jan. 15
SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 4, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Jeffrey S. Young, co-owner of YESCO, a nearly 100-year-old custom electric sign company which was founded by Jeff's grandfather, goes undercover on the Emmy Award winning series, "Undercover Boss," Friday, January 15 (8:00-9:00 PM, ET/PT; 7:00-8:00 PM, CT/MT) on the CBS Television Network.
During his undercover journey, Jeff faces his fear of heights while scaling stories-high signs to make necessary repairs, experiences the danger of high voltage neon wiring, performs other hands-on tasks, and discovers some faults within the company that must be corrected.
"This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to disguise myself and work on the front line in order to understand exactly what the company needs in order to be successful," Jeff said. "The 'Undercover Boss' team created a perfect way to see the company from the inside out, to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice of YESCO employees, and to redirect the company in meaningful ways. The experience ended up being significantly more emotional and impactful than I would have imagined."
Founded in 1920 by Thomas Young, YESCO has grown to be one of the largest custom sign companies in the world, with approximately 85 locations across North America and 1,000 employees. The company is a one-stop shop for the full spectrum of sign services, including design and engineering, manufacturing, installation, billboards, service and on-going maintenance. YESCO is recognized worldwide for its iconic displays that light up the Las Vegas Strip. YESCO's award winning designs, superb attention to quality, and highly successful service franchise make it a unique company in a colorful industry.
About YESCO: In 1920 Thomas Young founded Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) in Ogden, Utah. The company operates a full service custom sign manufacturing business offering creative design, engineering, leasing, financing, and maintenance agreements. YESCO owns and operates its own network of digital billboards, as well as 1,800 traditional billboard faces in the Western United States. YESCO operates a sign and lighting service franchise network throughout North America. For more information about YESCO click here.
UNDERCOVER BOSS, a reality series in its seventh season, follows high-level executives as they slip anonymously into the rank-and-file of their own organizations. Each week, a different leader will sacrifice the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their operation.
By Erik Sine
Return of the Dragon: Iconic sign goes back up on 25th Street
OGDEN — The folks on Historic 25th Street haven’t been this excited since the repeal of Prohibition.
They’re calling it “Return of the Dragon,” and it’s not just a classic Bruce Lee martial-arts film. It’s also a well-deserved party for a long-very-nearly-lost friend.
The neon dragon sign that for more than 60 years loomed over the Star Noodle Parlor on 25th Street is finally back where it belongs. On Monday, crews from YESCO, the company that built the original sign, returned the dragon to its rightful place on the famed downtown Ogden street — whence it had been missing since 2008.
And now, on Friday, Feb. 6, a “Return of the Dragon” celebration is planned. At 5 p.m., refreshments will be served at the building at 225 Historic 25th St., including a “reinvention” of the famed shrimp salad that the Star Noodle Parlor used to serve. Then, at 5:30 p.m., comes the moment folks have been anticipating for more than six years: Following brief speeches by the appropriate dignitaries, the dragon will officially blaze back to life when a switch is thrown, exciting the dragon’s colorful neon tubes.
Carolyn Brierley, executive director of the Historic 25th Street Business Association, said her association’s members are all abuzz about the return of the neon dragon to its rightful place on the famed street.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Brierley said. “This is really a famous sign; I had no idea it was such an iconic landmark, even outside Utah. I think it’s going to bring us several visitors. We’re excited it’s going back in.”
In 2007, the Star Noodle Parlor building was sold, and the following year the dragon was removed for renovations to the sign and the facade. The dragon was supposed to go back up on the building later that year, but instead went into storage.
“It was going to be a temporary removal, to find out what was behind the fake storefront,” said Greg Montgomery, planning manager for Ogden City. “But then the economy went in a different direction.”
What was going to be a quick turnaround dragged on for months, and then years.
“We were just waiting for the economy to turn,” explained building owner Thaine Fischer.
According to Montgomery, the building went up in 1912, and housed both live theater, and later, a projection theater. It was originally called the Revere Theater. The following year it became the Cherry Theater, and then from 1914 to 1933 it was the Rex Theater, Montgomery said. It became Star Noodle Parlor in 1948.
The dragon sign wasn’t a part of the original building, so it didn’t qualify for historical status — and therefore any financial help through tax credits, according to Montgomery. As a result, Fischer admits renovating the dragon was “very expensive.”
“The sign itself is an iconic sign for the community,” Fischer said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t meet the criteria for a historical sign. … It’s iconic, but not historical.”
So then, why restore it?
“It was a community investment,” Fischer said. “When we bought the building, we loved the sign. It’s just an iconic sign that we love.”
For its part, the Landmarks Commission just wanted to make sure the dragon returned to 25th Street, according to Montgomery.
“What the Landmarks Commission didn’t want was for the sign to be removed and forgotten, where the owners say, ‘Oh? What sign?’ ” Montgomery said. “We’ve had others on the street take down signs and take them with them … although nothing as iconic as the dragon.”
The excitement about the return of the dragon has been building for quite some time now. Barbara Taylor is marketing director of R&O Construction, the Ogden company hired to do the renovation at 225 Historic 25th St. She says once folks found out R&O was doing the renovation on the old Star Noodle Parlor building, they were inundated with questions about the beloved dragon.
“We’ve had so many people asking us about it — ‘When’s it going in?’ ‘When’s it coming back?’ ” she said. “People are pretty excited.”
Because the building — which was actually two buildings with a common facade — sat empty for so long, there were some structural issues, according to Taylor. The company also had to level the sloped theater floor, and a tunnel was discovered beneath the building.
Fischer says a Salt Lake City restaurant, Pig & a Jelly Jar, will be opening a second location on the main level. An IT company will be housed upstairs. Other tenants are pending.
The original neon dragon sign was built by YESCO, of Salt Lake City. YESCO president Steve Jones said his company is honored to have handled the restoration of the dragon.
“YESCO had its beginnings in Ogden, in the early 1920s,” Jones said. “We played a role in 25th Street — including this sign — so this is a real treat for us.”
YESCO’s Steve White was the project manager for the dragon restoration. The neon wonder was delivered to YESCO, on a pallet, on Nov. 19, 2013, according to White, and he oversaw a crew of 10 to 12 people who completed various phases of the restoration.
White says it was pretty much a labor of love.
“For every hour I spent on the clock, working on it, I easily spent another hour off,” he said.
White figures he’s got about 200 hours, himself, invested in the project. The sign, which is about 10 feet tall and 12 feet long, includes more than 250 feet of neon, involving 68 separate pieces of neon tubing. It’s powered by 12 neon transformers, each with its own circuit.
“I’ve worked here since 2006, and this is easily the most complicated sign I’ve ever worked on,” White said.
During the restoration, workers carefully removed several layers of “skins” — metal coverings placed over the sign with each subsequent change in name. White says the “Rooms” reference restored to the current sign was on the original.
“We found something in the neighborhood of 10 coats of paint on the sign,” Jones said. “And I think we’ve maintained this sign since we first put it up.”
Although they can’t be certain exactly when the dragon was built, judging from the methods used, White guesses it was created “somewhere in the late ’30s or early ’40s.”
And the newly restored neon sign is getting glowing reviews.
“It’s great. They did a great job,” Montgomery said. “It’s been one of those missing pieces on 25th Street — this was the final missing piece.”
Taylor praises the fact that “it’s been all local involvement,” from the architect, to the construction company, to the sign restoration company.
“We’re excited because it’s a part of Ogden’s history, and we’re delighted to be a part of it,” Taylor said.
Added Fischer: “I think everybody, including ourselves, is excited to put the sign back up. I cannot wait to see it up there.”
By Erik Sine
Good for YESCO in taking a stand on what they believe in and not doing something just for the money end of it
Portland medical marijuana dispensary owner says Utah company refused to make sign for his business
By Noelle Crombie | The Oregonian/OregonLive
Don Morse wanted to install an electric sign on his Southwest Portland medical marijuana dispensary so he arranged for a local representative of a national sign company to come by his shop.
A few days later, Sharyl Herigstad, an Oregon representative of Yesco, the Utah-based sign company, emailed Morse a proposed design. Morse, who with Sarah Bennett owns the Human Collective, approved the sketches and waited for the bid.
Instead, he got a call last month from Herigstad who said the company's corporate officials rejected the job, which Morse estimated would have cost $10,000.
"Corporate said, 'We don't do business with marijuana,'" said Morse. "They steadfastly refused to build us a sign."
Morse wanted the sign to feature the shop's name and carry a green cross, a common symbol for medical marijuana. He said Herigstad referred him to another sign company.
Yesco is a national company headquartered in Salt Lake City. On its website, the company, founded in the late 1800s by a Mormon, advertises its work with Las Vegas casinos, large American corporations, like Starbucks, and events like the Olympics.
The Human Collective shares a Southwest Barbur Boulevard shopping plaza with a handful of other businesses, including Adam & Eve, a sex products shop. Joshua Traughber, a general manager for eight Adam & Eve stores in Oregon, Nevada and Idaho, said his company also has tried, unsuccessfully, to work with Yesco, which also operates billboards.
Traughber said Adam & Eve recently tried to hire Yesco to make a sign for its Portland shop, which opened less than a month ago. He said Yesco also has refused the company's attempts to advertise on its billboards.
"Yesco will not let us advertise with them," he said. "We have tried for years and years in different states."
In an email to The Oregonian/Oregonlive, Herigstad said she was not authorized to speak on behalf of the company. A message left at Yesco's corporate headquarters was not returned.
"It's just a business to business transaction," said Morse, who compared his treatment to that of a Portland lesbian couple whose 2013 wedding cake order was rejected by a Gresham bakery.
"We are running a legal business in this state," said Morse, whose shop is licensed by the Oregon Health Authority. "This is wrong. We fought enough battles to get where we are and now we have to fight businesses that provide services?"
Leland Berger, a Portland attorney who advises marijuana businesses, said Yesco's rejection Morse's order isn't illegal.
Berger said he encountered similar attitudes when searching for office space. One potential landlord said she wouldn't permit Berger to post a sign with his business name, Oregon Cannabusiness Compliance Counsel.
"There is bigotry around cannabis businesses," he said. "There is no doubt about it."
-- Noelle Crombie
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