Like most Utah towns, tiny Mt. Pleasant, in Sanpete County, has addresses based on the grid system. Yet, ask for directions from most of the locals, and don't expect anything based on that system. Instead, you will be guided based on landmarks - the Far West Bank or the Jim's Dairy Freeze, for instance - most of which are businesses identified by their own, unique signs.
Within Salt Lake City, similar landmark business signs are still employed as means of guidance around the city, as well as providing a throwback to the days when those signs were still allowed.Looking for Sugar House? Simply follow 2100 South until you see a giant, chocolate-and-vanilla ice cream cone. The Holladay area? Proceed south on Highland Drive, keeping your eyes peeled for three happy carpet guys. Downtown Salt Lake City? Glance north, and search the skyline for one of the many building placards, such as First Interstate Bank or Wells Fargo.
As cities continually tinker with their sign ordinances, many of the truly unique aspects of signs are falling to the wrong side of the law. In many places, signs are not allowed to move, flash or include animation.
Although the aim, and often the result, is to clean up the clutter within a city, a side effect is the elimination of signs that may otherwise find their way into the hearts of residents.
"There is a certain nostalgia about some signs," said Kirk Brimley, public relations officer for Young Electric Sign Company. "They can literally index the environment."
Although Brimley agrees that signs should be regulated, and that too many bowling pins or waving Indians could ruin a city, he worries that cities could be sacrificing culture for cleanliness.
"We sometimes throw away our heritage in the name of beautification," he said.
Despite ordinances, and possibly because of the restrictions, certain signs have taken on a certain mystique and have developed an uncommon life expectancy in the business.
Take the Ritz-Classic Bowling Alley bowling pin, 2265 S. State. Nearly 30 years ago, strong winds blew it over. For many signs, that would have been the final strike.
Yet today, the pin stands proud and won't likely come down any time soon, said Vera May, who has worked at the alley for 35 years.
"Everybody talks about us as the bowling alley with the pin out front," May said. "I think it definitely helps attract people to the lanes."
Drawing people to the business, as expected, is the biggest possible benefit of most of these signs. The majority are small, locally owned business without name-brand power or chain backing.
Not that the signs always work. CarpeTowne, which boasts three head-bobbing guys at 3270 S. Highland Drive, recently closed their shop doors and sold the space to a nearby restaurant, Tres Hombres.
Fans of the sign, don't fret. The owners of the restaurant have designs for the sign and will likely incorporate it into their business (sombreros on the three guys, maybe?)
"It's sort of in disrepair, but we plan on working with it," said co-owner Mike Gibson.
Deciding to keep the sign was easy, after talking to many of their customers.
"Overwhelmingly, the people have wanted the sign kept," he said.
Public rallying for a sign is not a new thing. In 1988, when Rafeal J. Garzarelli purchased Howe Rents, a first order of business was dealing with the chubby waving Indian who advertised the business.
When word spread that he might consider removing the sign, however, complaints began to roll in to him.
"It's got a sentimental value to a lot of people," said Garzarelli, noting a letter he received from one family. The letter explains how happy the sign made their children when they first moved to the valley, especially before the kids began making friends.
Surprisingly, Garzarelli said he has only received a handful of complaints in the past decade about the sign. Building such a sign today, however, would be nearly impossible.
"This isn't the 1950s any more," he said.
Not only would it violate numerous city codes, Garzarelli said. it would offend many people's sensitivities, especially those of American Indians.
A sign that probably won't bother anyone is the Snelgrove ice cream cone, 850 E. 2100 South. Already designated as a historical landmark by the East Valley Chamber of Commerce, the sign is something for Sugar House residents to swell their chest about.
"It is unique and different, and has great longevity," said Del Brewster, the president of the chamber. "It's of great interest and is a community pride."