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Childhood friends lighting up Windsor

Tecumseh Signs Neon brings Windsor's famous Lazares Furs sign back to life
Author: Devan Mighton
Photographer: Kegun Morkin
2 years ago
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In a world where one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, old becomes new and vintage is chic. Whether it be fashion, home design, cars, collectables, or what-have-you, it is proven that what once was in style, can and possibly will be in-style again.

Nostalgia is a powerful driver of the vintage trend. For old to become new, the trend in question requires a feel, an emotional texture to grab onto. The cool evening breeze in a convertible, the thrill of finding a rare trading card, the quaintness of a Victorian home, the warm glow of a neon sign.

Luke Piskovic of Piskey’s Mobile Detailing and Justin Franzoso of Tecumseh Signs are lifelong friends. Schoolmates, they both endeavoured to make something of themselves and build small businesses that would become the fabric of their community.

Straight out of high school, Franzoso made his way into the sign industry, learning the trade on the fly.

“Ten years ago, I decided to take a leap and start Tecumseh Signs,” he explains. “I started Tecumseh Signs on my own. It was supposed to be a one-man show – one little bucket truck – I was going to go change light bulbs and signs and that was it. It would be my own little gig. I was going to do service calls and that was it. One thing led to another and now we’ve grown into one of the biggest sign companies in the area.”

Piskovic, with his detailing company, formed a solid clientele and made excellent contacts, to go along with a penchant for design skills and social media. He has joined forces with his lifelong friend to form a new side-hustle – Tecumseh Signs Neon.

“We’ve been best friends since we were little kids in grade 2,” states Piskovic. “We’re just two young entrepreneurs trying to use our resources together to push a dying art back to life.”

A prime example of these signs on the streets of Windsor are the Yorktown Plaza sign on Grand Marais and the Arcata Pizza sign on Walker Ave., both deemed heritage sites by the City of Windsor.

With Franzoso as the sign builder and manufacturer and Piskovic handling design and sales, Tecumseh Signs Neon added glass-blower Bob Whitehead to the fray.

“We’ve got Bob, who’s been in the industry for almost three decades,” beams Franzoso. He is the last of the glassblowers that bends neon tubes. He’s the only one right now, I think, from Toronto-down that still does neon glass. We decided to move his whole glass shop from Harrow and into our shop here in Windsor.”

“Glassblowing is a wild art. It’s pretty mesmerizing to see Bob using his own language, bending all the glass into patterns.”

Whitehead did the refurbishment of the Yorktown Plaza sign a few years earlier and was a perfect addition to the team.

Even though the new neon business has been operating for a while now, Tecumseh Signs has kept the new hustle fairly quiet, choosing to build a portfolio and grassroots following over jumping feet-first into the fire.

“We’ve already started building stuff on the side that we’ve produced and delivered, we just haven’t really posted much because we’ve been building up our portfolio before we launch,” explains Piskovic. “One of our main attractions for bringing back this dying art is, here in Windsor, the Lazares Furs sign on Maiden Lane. That sign’s been in disrepair for 25 or 30 years. The current owner bought it in the early 90’s and he’s never seen it lit up.”

Affixed to the building at 493 Ouellette St. in 1942, for decades, the magnificent Lazares neon sign lit up Windsor’s downtown. In 2015, the sign was added to the Windsor municipal heritage register.

“I tracked down the owner of that sign and offered a full in-house restoration – on us!” exclaimed Piskovic. “We are two young entrepreneurs, and we want to donate back to the City of Windsor – we want to light up that piece of art. It is one of the nicest pieces of art in Downtown Windsor. The graffiti that we see down there is beautiful and awesome, but when we see the glow of that neon, it’s something else.”

Fixing up the sign was kept hush-hush, even from residents who feared that the gorgeous piece of art was being torn down. Done at their own expense, the duo says the job caught the attention of the city and even led to them fixing the “WINDSOR” sign for this year’s Bright Lights Festival at Jackson Park.

“The City of Windsor supports our two local small businesses, and this is our way of giving back to the city that supports us and hopefully everyone can enjoy that beautiful sign in Downtown Windsor,” adds Piskovic. “Did it cost a lot of money? Yeah! But once we saw it lit up downtown three weeks ago – it looked so good.”

A point of pride for Piskovic and Franzoso has been the work they and Whitehead did to rescue the neon sign from the demolished Tilbury Hotel. Memorable for its bright, fiery glow, the 16-by-five foot red “HOTEL” sign lit up the Tilbury skyline for decades.

“It’s the original one from the hotel back in the day,” states Franzoso. “The building is now demolished, but my brother, who’s my main installer here at Tecumseh Signs, lives in Tilbury and found out that they were tearing the building down.

“He went there with one of our cranes and the sign was actually still on the roof of the building. We craned it off right before they tore the building down and salvaged it at the shop. We had Bob restore it all, redo all of the electrical and glass work on it. We have a lot of people who have interest in that thing and are willing to spend big money to buy it, but it’s so cool that we’ve got it hanging on the wall in our shop for now.”

Tecumseh Signs Neon are looking to do their part to bring back this dying art and to light up Windsor once again by making the old new again.

“In 2022, everybody is looking for the vintage look in cars, style, clothing, decorating your house – a lot of people are going with the vintage look,” explains Franzoso. “The same thing is happening in the sign industry, where people are chasing that vintage look. People are now buying, selling, and trading old neon signs that are 50, 60, 70 years old, and we figured that if there is a demand for this out there, why can’t we start recreating this stuff? We started it as an experiment to see where it would go, and it’s done nothing but take off.”

For more information on Tecumseh Signs Neon, please visit www.TecumsehSigns.ca, or follow them on social media at @tecumsehsigns, as well as Piskey’s Mobile Detailing at @piskeys.

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