Friday, September 30, 2011

What Beats Saving a Sign? Saving the Storefront It Occupied Too!

Rohs True Value Hardware opened it's doors in 1933 under the management of its proprietor, Albert G. Rohs, on Vine Street in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati.
Rohs Hardware in 2008
Photo courtesy of

Al Rohs with just
some of his wares
Photo courtesy of
I was first drawn to the neon-illuminated, porcelain enamel letters that fronted the building. So, last spring when I saw a 'Going Out of Business' sign in the window, I approached the current owner — Albert R. Rohs, Albert G's son — about the donating the letters to the American Sign Museum. 

Then I noticed the storefront had been retrofitted with porcelain enamel panels, and I thought to myself, “What a great addition the façade would make to our ‘Signs on Main Street’ exhibit area.

When Rohs closed, a local developer named Rick Kimbler of Northpointe Realty, Cincinnati acquired the building. I asked him about plans for the porcelain panels, and he said they would probably remove and discard them. I told him of my plans, and he thought it an appropriate re-use. He would talk with his general contractor, Bill Baum of Cincinnati-based Urban Sites, about the idea.

Baum followed up, giving us a basic go-ahead and suggesting we meet to discuss coordinating the removal of the porcelain letters and panels. But when I met Baum and architect Mark Gunther of Wichman Gunther Architects later that week, Gunther said, “There’s a good deal of Federal money financing the redevelopment,” said Gunther, “and we have to meet historic preservation criteria. Odds are removing the panels will jeopardize the federal money.” My heart sank. “Let me research it,” Gunther said. We would just have to wait for the verdict.

Then, the local daily—Cincinnati Enquirer—featured the museum’s new home in its Labor Day weekend Sunday edition. Mention of the possible reuse of the Rohs storefront prompted Albert’s daughter, Karen Rohs Laib, to e-mail the reporter about how great it would be if the Rohs storefront went to the museum. I sent copies off to all the parties involved.

A few weeks later, Bill Baum called. “Hey, they’re all yours,” he said. Sean Druley, who is building the displays and exhibits at our new home, friend Toby Costello, and I set out on a Tuesday afternoon, grateful that the rain of the day before and earlier that day had stopped. By 5:00 that afternoon, we had all the panels and letters down and strapped onto the trailer, far ahead of our schedule. Wednesday—our original completion day—it rained from dawn to dusk. It was just one of those meant-to-be projects.

Toby Costello (left) and Sean Druley (right) removing the letters and panels
that will be reassembled along Signs on Main Street at the American Sign Museum 


  1. Tod,

    Well done!
    I sure would like to see a series of photos documenting in detail how you tackle a removal process like this one. Perhaps for a future rescue project.
    Great job!


  2. Removing the porcelain panels was actually rather simple. It only took the three of us four hours to completely remove all the panels as well as the level, including strapping them down onto the trailer. Each panel is about 3/8 – ½ in. thick and has 2-3 tabs on one vertical side of the panel. The tabs have a hole punched in them for nailing or screwing the panel to the wood façade of the storefront. You start at the top of the building with the top row of panels and work from left to right since the tabs were on the right of the panels.

    Of course, the first one is a little tricky to remove, but then each successive panel lifts off with a little coaxing of the nail or screw. The letters were a little trickier: We had to grind off the heads of the wood screws that held the letters onto the porcelain panels behind. By the third and fourth letter, we had it down to a system. We will basically re-install them on the storefront on “Signs on Main Street” in the reverse order, beginning on the bottom at far right.

  3. A Store Front Sign is a heart of business identity and it necessarily doesn't need to be neon sign.A simple but great looking sign could also give a great identity to the store/shop. Consult an experience company to have a better idea along with the costs.