Signs of the Times

 

Integrity Meats sign--"WE MEAT YOUR NEEDS" | Photo: Peter Woodall

Integrity Meats sign–“WE MEAT YOUR NEEDS” | Photo: Peter Woodall

With apologies to 52nd Street, Lancaster Avenue, Ridge and Cecil B. Moore, the stretch of Germantown Avenue that runs through North Philadelphia’s Fairhill neighborhood may have the richest trove of signs–vintage and otherwise–in the city. Many of the signs on this commercial strip anchored by Lehigh Avenue were painted by hand, and as they age the brush strokes become more visible. Even some of the newer signs with the ubiquitous red, black and yellow color scheme show the mark of an artist. Beyond their neat handiwork these anonymous artisans often had a keen sense of design that seems to have been all but abandoned by the crude signs of today. Not all modern, machine-printed signs are meritless, though. A few such as the one for Rainbow Shops have a bold simplicity that gives them visual appeal.

Unfortunately, these signs have survived more through neglect than love. Fairhill is one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in the city, and many businesses can’t afford new signs. Yet that’s not the only reason they’ve endured–some of the signs are still there because the stores remain open.  A surprising number of shops have managed to hang on for four or five decades or more, through the neighborhood’s long slide. Arthur’s Dog House continues to serve hot dogs; there is still place on Germantown Avenue to buy a steak or a suit.

An added bonus is the little bits of idiosyncrasy and humor that sometimes sneak into the signs. Not every dry cleaner has a master plan, but Stan does. As the sign says, “‘STAN’ — THE MAN With the Master Plan.” Maybe he’s a fan of the Kay-Gee’s song “Who is the Man with the Master Plan” that Big Daddy Kane and Dr. Dre later sampled. And who can resist a bad pun? Nearly hidden within the sign for Integrity Meats is: “WE MEAT YOUR NEEDS.” A howler, but it made me laugh. Try finding a slogan like that at SuperFresh or Wal-Mart.

Peter Woodall is the co-editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for PhiladelphiaWeekly.com.



1 Comment


  1. Lovely little article and huge photo-essay. very enjoyable, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

 

Recent Posts
Ground Broken On Reuse Of Old Spring Garden School

Ground Broken On Reuse Of Old Spring Garden School

September 26, 2016  |  Morning Blend

North Philadelphia eyesore being converted into 37 units of subsidized housing, Fishtown entertainment complex opens, and Kenney the pedestrian champion > more

The Tale Of Catfish And Waffles

The Tale Of Catfish And Waffles

September 23, 2016  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Long before chicken and waffles took hip restaurant menus by storm Philadelphia was famous for the meal's precursor, catfish and waffles, served at inns and taverns on the banks of the Wissahickon Creek and the Schuylkill River. Harry K. sets the table and serves us up a heaping plate of local culinary history > more

Requiem For A Moderne Gem, William Penn Annex Post Office

Requiem For A Moderne Gem, William Penn Annex Post Office

September 22, 2016  |  Vantage

Contributor Ann de Forest delivers a eulogy for the decline of civic architecture and the closing of an iconic post office on East Market Street. > more

Residential Towers To Connect Old City With Northern Liberties

Residential Towers To Connect Old City With Northern Liberties

September 22, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Apartment high-rises planned for East Callowhill, Little Pete’s replacement moves ahead, adverse possession in Fishtown, conserving INHP’s bronze statues, and Clarke defends low-density urban development > more

Planning Commission Scoffs At Bill To Increase Parking Minimums

Planning Commission Scoffs At Bill To Increase Parking Minimums

September 21, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Chilly reception for Blackwell’s parking proposal, Historical Commission committee supportive of designating three Baptist churches, Saint-Gobain gives $700K for LOVE Park, and the artistic filling of some South Philly potholes > more

A Look At Philly's Smallest (Official) Neighborhood

A Look At Philly’s Smallest (Official) Neighborhood

September 20, 2016  |  Morning Blend

Strolling through West Shore, when Philly was addicted to “artificial ice,” Snyder Plaza gets a colorful paint job, and expanded food options on Market > more