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Neon lights making a comeback as smaller businesses desire unique signs

Posted at 3:49 PM, Dec 12, 2018

Defined by that warm glow and a faint humming sound, the neon sign has been a staple for almost a century.

“By the thirties, it sort of exploded,” says Jeff Friedman, with Let There Be Neon. “It’s everywhere.”

But a few years ago, neon was moving out of the picture, as cheaper LED lights took over. Las Vegas even has its own museum devoted to the iconic neon of its heyday.

It was a dying business, or so it seemed. 

Friedman says smaller scale, specialty signs are now more popular than ever.  Smaller businesses want to craft a unique sign that stands out and might even be Instagram-worthy.

“For us, we’ve never made more neon, and we still can’t make it fast enough, Friedman says.

“I think because there's a fresh appreciation of artisanal goods, and people with this instant gratification are appreciating slow process, handmade items, and neon is clearly one of those.”

The process can take days to craft just one neon sign.

Thomas Rinaldi, a historian who's catalogued some of New York’s most iconic neon signs, says the abundance of new neon is real.

"People have really kind of seized, maybe more than ever in the last few years, on the kind of unique aesthetic of these exposed tube neon signs,” Rinaldi says. “And it’s become enormously desirable for restaurants, retail environments."

However, Rinaldi acknowledges that, in terms of glass blowers still working in neon today, there are fewer of them. But in terms of people who appreciate the craft, there may be more than ever.