New businesses are breathing new life to downtown Abingdon, Va. Just off West Main Street, tucked between some antique shops is a fading piece of the past. The yellow and white paint of the general store sign is just barely visible on the brick outside of Wolf Hills Antiques.
“We didn’t want to get rid of it,” said Bobby Lane, owner of the Market Place Building and Wolf Hills Antiques, “but it’s an eyesore. Since this is an antique shop, we decided to restore it. We don’t want it to look too fresh, though. We want to make it look old.”
Wolf Hills Antiques is one of four new businesses to open on West Main Street in the past year, and curb appeal is at the forefront of business owners’ minds to bring in new customers.
To insure that the Lanes’ vision for the sign comes to life, they recruited a real walldog to complete the restoration.
“Walldogs” are what the original painters of the sign would have been called according to Carl Jessee who got his start in the sign business 65 years ago.
Carl’s first job was painting the weights of coal trucks on the cab doors. “The state passed a law that the weight of the truck when it was empty and when it was full had to be painted on the side. There were plenty of coal trucks in Honaker, and I needed a job.”
Mr. Jessee has two signs in the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. He and his son, JJ Jessee, will be overseeing the restoration of the sign. The Jessee family runs the Bristol Sign Company, which Carl opened in 1969.
“Dad’s done billboards and wall signs. He used to do raceway work too. He’d be out there at four in the morning fixing the signs that were damaged during the Saturday race for the Sunday race,” JJ Jessee said.
Now retired from the sign business, Mr. Jessee owns an art and frame shop in Bristol, Va. He only reprises his role as a walldog-sign-painter for special occasions such as a restoration.
Carl Jessee has seen the sign business go from painters to printers. “There is no comparison between when I started in signs and now. Everything is computerized. Everyone is going to vinyl,” he said.
The Jessees’ and the Lanes’ goal to improve the facade the Market Place Building lines up with the goals of many business owners and community members in Abingdon. The non profit organization Abingdon Main Street is focused on making downtown Abingdon a place that people want to shop, dine, and stay. Abingdon Main Street’s volunteers are working to acquire grants for facade improvement.
“One of Abingdon Main Street’s goals is to help business and property owners preserve the unique and welcoming atmosphere of our downtown area and to also improve and update it when necessary. Part of our work is to direct resources to them to achieve this goal,” said President of Abingdon Main Street Scott Sikes.