Tonawanda News

September 20, 2013

ADAMCZYK: Signs, signs -- everywhere the signs

By Ed Adamczyk
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — That a driver in this state can read is not a requirement, but it’s definitely implied. A driver needs literacy to at least fill out the forms or study the handbook (maybe it’s a website now, I don’t know) before being licensed. 

And that’s a good thing, as Martha would say, because there’s a lot to read, driving or walking around Kenmore and Tonawanda.

Professional and amateur signage seems to be proliferating, in large part, I suspect, because summer events soon to pass often require some temporary advertising. Hence, the handmade sign at the end of the street. Garage sale, yard sale, moving sale. These things tend not to occur in winter.

Compare the Village of Kenmore’s traffic advisories to those of say, downtown Williamsville. There seems to be something to read on every publically owned vertical surface in Kenmore, as though the village is a test bed for traffic law (or maybe a test bed for sign construction). That other community seems to offer nothing but advice on where to park, and even that is a crapshoot (ask me about my parking tickets).

Drive down Ken-Ton’s thoroughfares — Elmwood Avenue, Delaware Avenue, Sheridan Drive — and it’s astounding, the amount of available reading material (and we have not seriously begun political campaign season).

Mighty Taco offers, on its electric scoreboard-style sign, puns and rhymes about pigs (they’ve got a pork-based sandwich now, apparently). The lamp posts promote the concerts of local bands and the finding of local lost cats. A piece of cardboard, wired to the Delaware Avenue pavement, announces “Tailor,” and yes, an excellent tailor works right down the street, except that the sign is there daily, day/night, whether the tailor is on/off duty.

We expect an advertising sign over the front end of a retail establishment or service business. If the sign reads “Sears Hardware,” we have a pretty fair idea of what’s inside, behind the storefront. A chiropractor in a strip mall across the street has a van painted to explain the services at the shop therein (presumably in the shop; for all I know you walk into the van to get cracked and cured). 

One empty storefront has a sign reading “Free Rent” attached over a restaurant sign. It’s not far from several places selling “vapor” supplies.

Front lawns of homes sport “for sale” signs when they’re not displaying the names of the establishments mowing the lawn, replacing the furnace, tarring the driveway.

Yeah, you can read the equivalent of a novel, just walking or driving down the street, and don’t get me started on bumper stickers.

In general all this available reading material should not be construed as visual clutter, or some exotic form of pollution. This sort of thing is to be expected, even encouraged, in thriving residential communities, and there’s a reason garage sales do not tend to occur in downtown Buffalo or on Goat Island in Niagara Falls. Wander through here with eyes open and a competency (to employ an old Army term) in literacy, and you’ll note something vibrant going on. These scraps, of someone offering something, imply commerce is happening, as well as some sort of individual progress — a move out, a move away, a realization the ex-husband is not returning for his saxophone so it’s time to sell the instrument, a car wash by from some high school’s female athletic team, a lost pet being missed, and needless to say, business being business.

What you never seem to find, out here, are signs from events two weeks ago, still stuck to utility poles or flying in the breeze. In general we clean up after ourselves, and for a community with perhaps just a few too many strip malls (vacant or booming) we can point to very few derelict strip malls.

I could posit a connection between the decline of book and newspaper readership and the growth of having enough to read by merely venturing from the house, but I’ll await the truckloads of grant money required for a study of any depth. Instead I’ll explain what started this observation of Ken-Ton’s signage:

Stopped at a traffic light on Delaware Avenue I noticed a plastic easel standing near the gutter, with a paper sign taped on it. “Open,” it read, with an arrow pointed toward a storefront. The notice was crude, it was quick, it was a little sloppy and did not suggest a welcome entry to wherever it was pointing. It was pointed at a sign maker’s shop.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at