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Published May 14 2012

Where do F-M's retired signs go?

FARGO - There’s a place, just a block off Main Avenue near downtown, where signs of old can be found.

That is, literally, there’s a bunch of old signs there.

Behind the offices of Fargo’s Indigo Signworks, unused and discarded signs from area businesses sit mournfully, bordered off by chain-link fence topped by barbed wire, waiting for the end, or perhaps the next chapter, of their advertising life.

Hornbachers is there, large and red, the lettering plenty recognizable. A few gas stations are represented there, too – Tesoro, BP, Loaf n’ Jug. A large Audubon Liquors sign sits upright, not far away from an old gas station display, which seems to advertise gas as 91 cents a gallon.

While the sign graveyard – or is it purgatory? – may seem somewhat novel for passersby, its purpose is rather practical – signs get old, after all. They get rusty, faded, chipped or stop working, and eventually they get replaced.

Or, perhaps some younger, fancier, more colorful and more appealing sign comes around.

But what happens then, when their usefulness comes to an end?

According to Luke Schlosser, operations manager at Indigo, whenever a client orders a new sign, the old sign is taken down. It’s then either disposed of immediately, or, if the customers so desire, brought to the graveyard to be stored for a while.

Sometimes, “they request us to keep them for six months or a year, because they might use them again at another location,” Schlosser says.

So, as a result, most of the signs in the graveyard – numbering somewhere between 50 and 75, Schlosser thinks – are more modern, recognizable logos from the past year, with most belonging to chain or franchise businesses.

There may be some signs that are much older, Schlosser says, but they could be hidden among the racks of the newer, sleeker models, proof of their existence having slipped between the cracks of time.

Sometimes, the businesses actually forget the signs are there, so they sit, wasting away unnoticed and unremembered.

Until, that is, Indigo calls the clients to remind them.

“They usually say, just get rid of them,” Schlosser says.

A lot of the national companies makes Indigo destroy the signs completely if they’re not going to be re-used, Schlosser says.

He pointed to Chevrolet as an example, which asks Indigo to take photos of its employees destroying the signs as proof.

In some cases though, an Indigo employee might ask to keep a sign that’s otherwise just going to be recycled. This, Schlosser says, can sometimes be arranged, especially if the sign holds some sort of meaning for that person.

“There are certain ones where it means something to people, that they may have worked there years ago and they’d ask to keep,” he says.

Not surprisingly, sometimes people off the street will also just walk up and ask if they can have a sign, but Schlosser says because of health reasons or insurance purpose, that’s not always possible.

And at least one local organization, too, has tried to get some use out of the motley collection in the graveyard.

The Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre, which also works with Indigo for its advertising displays, has at times approached the business about using old signs in the graveyard for upcoming production sets, says Director of Theater Scott Brusven.

One example, that ultimately never happened, concerned a sign that included the word “Chicago.” FMCT wanted to use that for a production of the musical of the same name, Brusven says, but it ended up not happening.

And, coincidentally, FMCT, too, is represented in the graveyard. Its sign is hidden back by the fence, perhaps a bit out of place among the national chains and gas stations.

There, the sign sits and waits for the construction phase at the theatre to finish before being redesigned and given an entirely new look.

“Part of (the sign) is going to be re-used,” Brusven says. “We’re chopping off the pavilion top to our sign, and basically the rectangular part is going to be kept.”

Once everything is finished, Brusven hopes the new sign will be in place by mid-summer.

But until then, it sits and waits behind Indigo in the graveyard, catching some sun and occasionally soaking up rain.

Among perhaps some unluckier placards, the FMCT beacon can celebrate – it has signs of life as its next chapter approaches.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535