Every business needs a sign. Hand-painted, retro ones have sprung up along West Girard Avenue and they’re looking to do more than just advertise businesses. They’re trying to bridge the divide between Fairmount and Brewerytown, lifelong residents and newcomers.
Perhaps the funniest of the new signs along West Girard Avenue is for a pet grooming business. “The Pet Grooming sign is a dog and a cat in a little tub being bathed and the cat is not too happy about being bathed. It’s rather angry and it’s got one scary tooth showing,” said David Waxman of MM Partners, a real estate development company in the area.
Waxman helped bring the sign-making collective Icy Signs to Girard Avenue where they’ve produced a series of eye-catching, distinctive signs for a taco shop, a chicken place and a cafe called RyBrew. Waxman says the signs like the one on RyBrew stand out.
“It’s hand-painted, it’s on the brick, they really like the three dimensional block letters and that’s not your run of the mill sign that you go to Mr. Sign or Sign USA to get done,” Waxman said.
The man behind Icy Signs is artist Stephen Powers. The Philly native lives in New York, but is best known here for his “Love Letter” public art project that ran on buildings in West Philly, visible from the Market-Frankford El.
“The signs that we’ve done on Girard Avenue so far I think they show a lot of exuberance,” Powers said. “They’re made with a lot of love and a lot of joy and hopefully that’s what comes across when you look at the work.” Powers and his group have donated a few signs, letting more modest businesses buy theirs at a discount.
Developer David Waxman says the signs are about bringing new life to this neighborhood without pushing out longtime residents. “We refuse to displace people. If we go to sheriff’s sale, we’ll only buy properties that are vacant,” Waxman said. “Philosophically it’s just not something that we want to be doing.
Girard Avenue is now also home to a playful, very large, very bright sign with big letters that has nothing to do with a business. It wraps around the corner with the words “Chillin’ on Girard.” Passing by, lifelong neighborhood resident Eugene Cooper says he likes the signs and the area. He says it’s changed for the better here.
“It’s a whole new town you might as well say,” Cooper said. “In a couple of years you won’t know if it’s Girard Avenue or Fairmount Avenue or Spring Garden.”
Shifty’s Taco now sports a sign with swirling script courtesy of Icy Signs. Jeb Woody runs the place and said “there’s just a vibrancy to this neighborhood that you don’t get anywhere but in Center City. Most of the retail on the first floor is occupied by something, there’s always foot traffic, the neighbors are friendly, it’s just got a community feel to it. You can also feel the raw potential. It’s almost like pure kinetic energy to be on this section of Girard Avenue.”
Woody says with other nearby neighborhoods developing rapidly, choosing this location was a “no-brainer.”
“Powers and his group have donated a few signs, letting more modest businesses buy theirs at a discount.”