A great sign does more than just advertise a business. It invites us in, telling us what to expect inside. With the right sign, a business we might not otherwise notice becomes a focal point of the community. We see it in passing and stop to look or make a mental note to check it out at a later date.
When I moved to Chicago in 2008, I was struck by how many vintage neon signs I saw. They told me that this was a city where local businesses were supported and passed down through generations, becoming anchors of their neighborhoods throughout changing times and trends. And for many signs, they serve as symbols of how immigrant communities have assimilated in America. Sadly, many have disappeared in recent years, which only makes the ones that remain that much more special.
This walking tour focuses on the eastern half of the Loop, with only one sign west of Clark St., and encompasses restaurants, theaters and local businesses, some of which have been operating since the end of the 19th century. And starts at one of Chicago’s two most famous signs. It's recommended to do this tour after sunset to get the full effect of the neon.
Dave Lifton has long had a love of neon signs, but he’s become more interested in exploring their history since his first visit to Las Vegas’ soulful Neon Museum in 2017. You can find him on Instagram at @dslifton.