It’s All About the Signs

By Himmler Joachim

Celebrating his company’s 90th year in business, Chris Lewis shares with me the fascinating history of his sign production company, as well as the sign business in general.

Lewis’ company creates not just billboards, which he says are a “very small part of my business,” but small engraved signs, interior signs, vehicle lettering and car wraps.

“Everybody needs signs,” says Lewis. “If it’s signs, we do it.” One of his proudest achievements is an 8-foot-tall Shop-Rite sign for one of the Middletown area stores.

“Now-a-days we do a lot of LED (Light Emitting Diode). We just put up a new sign for the Middlehope Fire Department. It’s like a big screen TV.”

Asking him about the costs to install LED signs in 2015, Lewis says that “they’ve gotten more reasonable.” In the same vein, Lewis shares his thoughts on how new technology has affected his business, which used to create painted, plastic and neon signs before the advent of LED displays.

“My grandfather and my father always embraced new technology,” he explains. “At the time we started, you had to make your own paint. [Using LED signs] was more of a coincidence of technology available.” Lewis reveals that his favorite type of signs are neon.

During our chat, Lewis took me on a spoken tour through the fascinating history of his company. Lewis Sign Co. was started by Lewis’ grandfather in the early 1900s. Grandpa Lewis was an apprentice on the path to learning the trade of sign painting. “[Back then], you actually formulated them by hand,” says Lewis. The letters were traced out beforehand, then filled in with paint. “The billboards faced the railroads, because there was not enough car traffic on the roads.” Lewis’ grandfather traveled around the United States for years painting advertisements on billboards around the country. After painting a billboard, he would wait for the next train to come so he could ride it to his next destination.

After the painted signs of the early 20th century, next came neon signs, florescent-lighted signs, and plastic signs, which was “a huge, new, innovative product,” says Lewis. “I have trade magazines that date back to the 1930s. You can see the evolution of design and the materials used.”

Lewis grew up learning the trade through his father and grandfather, but he still had a strong desire to develop his business skills. “I already knew design, material and fabrication techniques, but I felt like I didn’t know the business.” Therefore, he attended Ithaca College in New York and was awarded with a bachelor’s of science in Administration.

Besides heading Lewis Sign Co., Lewis is current Vice President of the World Sign Association, an international trade association of sign companies. He will be elected president this fall.

To learn more about Lewis and his company, visit: http://www.lewissigns.com/index.html.

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