A portion of Jim Rizzo’s neon sign and art studio on Grace Avenue in Oakland serves as a testament to the past, a collection of historic neon signs that once graced storefronts in the East Bay.
“These are from businesses that closed down,” Rizzo explains, pointing out the signs that once illuminated Bay Area restaurants and shops. Rather than seeing them tossed aside, the 51-year-old Alameda resident and father of two found the signs a new home in his 17,000-square-foot studio where the past meets the present.
Rizzo, who has always loved the look of neon signs, started his business Neon Works (www.neonworks.com) in 1990 after taking a neon glass class. Friends liked his work and through word-of-mouth he soon received numerous requests for custom signs. Today, he and his staff, including his wife, Kate, who manages the office, work diligently to create neon and LED signs with a retro look. An outdoor sign takes approximately a month to create and retails between $5,000 and $8,000.
“We made the sign for the new Kwik Way burger restaurant in Oakland and are working on signs for Alameda Collision Repair and for a new clothing store that is going in on Santa Clara Avenue in Alameda (at the site of the former John Towata Flower store),” Rizzo says.
Made with electrified, luminous tube lights that contain rarefied neon or other gases, the iconic neon signs were a popular form of outdoor advertising from the 1920s through the 1960s and continue to attract customers seeking bold and unique signage.
“Neon signs aren’t for everyone,” says Rizzo, whose majority of customers are small mom-and-pop businesses. “And in recent years, we’ve started to make some non-illuminated signs for customers.”
While other signage options such as dimensional signs or plaque signs with raised lettering may be less pricey, and slightly more eco-friendly, Rizzo notes they don’t have the same impact and allure of their neon counterparts.
“A neon sign can last 30 years or more,” Rizzo says. “And there’s nothing more gratifying for us than working with a client to create a neon sign and then driving by their business and seeing a line of customers outside their door.”