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The signs of the times


Erik Sine

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You likely don’t know their names, but if you’ve walked by a storefront or grabbed a seat at a bar in Minneapolis, you’ve likely seen the handiwork of Brian Crawford, Matt Thompson, Jeff Monzel or Robert Johnson.

The four are neon “benders” — the makers of neon signs and lighting — and collectively they are responsible for much of the custom neon lighting in the Twin Cities metro.

Both locally and nationally, the neon sign industry has shrunken to a small fraction of what it once was before the last recession, due in part to cheap and easily maintained LED lighting, now ubiquitous on storefronts. Despite the downturn, each bender continues their own, usually one-man shops in Northeast Minneapolis, the state’s unofficial capital of neon sign manufacturing.

“We’re dinosaurs. We truly are,” laughed Monzel, a bender of more than 25 years who runs Lightadot Neon & Glassworks.

For this generation of benders, Minneapolis was a regional hub for neon sign manufacturing because of its cheap studio space, its businesses — bars and beer companies, as well as neon tubing suppliers — and its proliferation of neon schools. Local colleges and the American School of Neon, once located in the North Loop’s trendy Colonial Warehouse building, churned out benders for larger sign companies, instead of just neon-specific shops.

Then as the economy dropped, LEDs, or light-emitting diode lights, advanced into the mainstream, touting energy efficiency without the craft of local artisans.

“The neon industry probably lost 80 percent of our work to LEDs, at least,” said Thompson, an alum of the American School of Neon and founder of Skyline Neon. “There’s almost no schools in the United States.”

CONTINUED HERE
http://www.southwestjournal.com/news-feed/the-signs-of-the-times

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You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. - Winston Churchill

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Good read. Don't post much. Read a lot. I've been doing neon for a long time. It started as a hobby and evolved into a full time endeavor. I stay as busy as I want to be I guess, While I have observed the insurgence of LED and other products that have tried to replace neon, it's amazing to me that the neon dudes, including myself, have sat on our ass and let the other applications come into our own backyard and literally take over. I am from south Georgia and we have a fish in local rivers and ponds called a Crappie. It's a great tasting fish to eat, but not fun to catch. The fish literally will take the bait and not put up a fight at all......all the way to the frying pan. Hell, if it could jump into your cooler it would. LOL. Neon is going to DIE if we don't put up a fight and try and reverse the trend. In my own town, it's dead. The biggest sign shop in my community is done selling or promoting it and it once was a big line item on their financial spreadsheet. Why LED? It's faster, easier and an easy sell to the customer. Our local governments have become sign experts as well, and the business owners, who pay and collect the most tax, have set on their ass and allowed their local elected officials to destroy their ability to recruit new business with the use of signs.

Neon folks and maybe me included have become Crappies. Maybe we need to get off our ass and do something....maybe not...........My dad died four year ago. I was with him when he drew his last breath. He left the house in his underwear and a T shirt.....and nothing esle. He took no money, his house or his car...My kids have NO interest in what I do...so I guess I am going to take what I have learned about Neon to the grave with the Grim Reaper. Let's start the process of resurrecting our profession. Just my thoughts.

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Totally agree with what you said and good comment Dave.

The problem is anyone who deals with Neon needs to "get off their ass" leave ISA and others who has never promoted, informed, only helped mislead this industry and the public that Neon is no longer viable, efficient or valuable. ISA has only enabled LED manufacturers to smear, mis-inform, and paint Neon as a danger. ISA has enabled and all but killed the electric sign industries proudest tradition of custom art. ISA is not lead by anyone in the sign inustry but rather those who collect a check in a no-profit who have been in many trade industries (Plastic, Pool & Spa, etc etc) , never produced or installed anything in ANY of those trade they have been in now or prior. So they do not share the love or interest in upholding our tradition at heart as we do. The sign industry to them is just another business model and it's treated as that.

Ask yourself when was the last time you have ever seen ISA ever promote Neon. When was the last time you have ever hear or seen a seminar/webinar/program that they like to have to raise funds on Neon? How efficient it is in light/energy, how recyclable it is? The answer is never, all because of what I stated above.

But Neon is not dying in anyway my friend. In fact I would say it's regional. For the last few years I've seen the growth of Neon and the demand is getting bigger. But again you would never know being a member of ISA, or CSA, nor showing up to one of their shows. The demand now is coming from the public, the club or restaurant owner who wants something that lasts, is bright and is unique. Neon supply sales is going up. The only thing that is problematic for the Neon industry is having enough legal supplies to keep it going. Neon mfg's aren't producing anymore. So now this has brought on a large non-listed products to to the market to carry it along. It's a shame but UL along with trade magazines and Sign Associations such as the International Sign Association has made it such.

It should also be noted, for those in the electric sign industry. If you're looking for a lean/big profit sector of the trade, produce Neon sign structures. Competition is low to nil, and you have the ability to charge on perceived value rather than by the inch, or hourly rate.

I myself have only been getting busier with Neon in my own hometown and in a way , I'm sort of bringing it back because it's been missed.

To finish up what I was saying earlier, Neon people need ot get off their ass and start supporting a new movement Herb from Masters Technology is starting and promoting. He's bypassing those such as ISA and targeting those who need to be targeted, the public, cities, and architects. If you want to put money somewhere, that's the better choice because you will get representation there rather than a sign association who's business model is well just to....internationally. We need to an American Electric Sign & Lighting Association for the US and Canada.

Maybe one day ISA can earn your support back.....

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. - Winston Churchill

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Only a few benders in our are doing it still. I actually think its great that only the skilled are still doing it. We have almost a job in house constantly thats neon. In my mind the sign industry did this to themselves. The same with hand lettering and cabinets that are not rectangles. We cant find and bring on skilled guys fast enough. To me the decline in neon came right before the need for GFCI transformers. IMHO they came into a need because people were doing shit/hack work and had ZERO business even touching neon. Before that skilled tradesmen built signs for decades with only minor problems. Then the same people who should have not been allowed to do neon work could not make it work and the newest savior to the sign biz came in and saved us from ourselves again and thus allowed even bigger hacks into the electric sign biz. Heck most keyboard operators dont even know what kerning is and are laying shit out in uppercase brush script.........

Keep up the work hacks and keep driving them to skilled shops

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You are 100% correct. We get " Designers and Artists " who can not draw a straight line with a yard stick.

Everyone claims to be a graphic designer. With no talent or skills that are any value to the sign industry.

Neon, pure gold in todays sign market. We have talented and skilled craftsmen who do excellent work.

We do neon everyday and continue to get calls for repairs and new signs and designs.

We have found that the " New Generation of Hippsters" love neon and want it for their business and bedrooms.

And their pockets are deep, no questions asked.

Anyone can put Christmas tree lights ( LEDs ) in a sign. Skilled Craftsmen make quality signs and money

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Only a few benders in our are doing it still. I actually think its great that only the skilled are still doing it. We have almost a job in house constantly thats neon. In my mind the sign industry did this to themselves. The same with hand lettering and cabinets that are not rectangles. We cant find and bring on skilled guys fast enough. To me the decline in neon came right before the need for GFCI transformers. IMHO they came into a need because people were doing shit/hack work and had ZERO business even touching neon. Before that skilled tradesmen built signs for decades with only minor problems. Then the same people who should have not been allowed to do neon work could not make it work and the newest savior to the sign biz came in and saved us from ourselves again and thus allowed even bigger hacks into the electric sign biz. Heck most keyboard operators dont even know what kerning is and are laying shit out in uppercase brush script.........

Keep up the work hacks and keep driving them to skilled shops

I thought I was the only one that all of this script stuff you can't even read that is being put on signs by "graphic artists" was driving nuts!! I see them and just have to wonder what the "designer" and the customer were thinking. It's one thing for a "designer" to do it, but as a customer why are they accepting it?? Something that you can't even read. There is one company in this area now that you can even get to repair neon, and they charge accordingly and you have to drive an hour and a half one way just to get it done.

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