Friday, February 4, 2011


Happy Neon Friday!

Y'know, a lot of people think of one thing when they think of neon signs-big glitzy things like you see in Vegas or something. Which is cool, but misses the fact that for many years, neon signs were everywhere, the best way to advertise your business day or night, and that they ranged from complex marquees to simpler ones that had a name and maybe some chasing lights. The fancy ones seem to stick around, but it's those simpler signs that are becoming a rarity.

This is such a sign, in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. It's advertising a drugstore that's still very much in business (and they still light the sign at night!!). I like this sign for a couple of reasons-for starters it's showing it's age, and it's clearly been there a long time. I like long-standing businesses, they really help make a neighborhood unique. I also like the "Apteka-Botica" legend at the bottom. It shows you just how long Barry's has been in business-"apteka" is Polish for drugstore, and "botica" is Spanish. It's a definite reminder of Wicker Park's Polish and Latino heritage-Poles started living in the area in the late 1890's, and the provisional government of Poland met there during the First World War. Immigration rose during WW2, with an estimated 150,000 people arriving between 1939 and 1959.

Things started to change in the early 1960's, with the arrival of the Kennedy Expressway, which displaced quite a few residents. Larger number of Puerto Rican and other Latinos began moving to Wicker Park around the same time-less than 1 percent of the neighborhood's residents were Latino in 1960, but this grew to 40% by 1970. I figure this sign dates from the late fifties or early sixties, when these two diverse groups were still largely in evidence in Wicker Park.

Wicker Park underwent more changes-like much of Chicago people fled the city during the 70's and 80's, but the neighborhood has undergone some improvements in the last decade or so. It's now a trendy place to live, with shopping, restaurants, and concert venues all in the neighborhood. Plus some vintage shops, such as Barry's.

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