Aug. 22, 2023 By Michael Dorgan
Gone, but not forgotten.
A Queens historian and preservationist has teamed up with a Brooklyn-based foundation to salvage storefront signs from shuttered city businesses — including the distinct red and yellow sign of the Alpha Donuts coffee shop in Sunnyside and the Tower Diner sign in Forest Hills that sat under the building’s tower clock.
Forest Hills resident Michael Perlman and the operators of the New York Sign Museum, located at 2465 Atlantic Ave., have been carefully taking down notable local signs and placing them in safekeeping in order to save the pieces of local history from being tossed in the dumpster.
The New York Sign Museum has accumulated dozens of signs with the aim of preserving and promoting the history of signage and advertising across New York City, and surrounding areas. It was founded by preservationists David Barnett and Mac Pohanka.
Perlman, who is the founder of the Rego Park-Forest Hills Preservation Council, joined forces with the museum in early 2022.
He said that preserving such signs is important in order to remember the past.
“If not salvaged, works that hold much significance in regard to 20th century history, art, culture,and construction methods would have ended up in a landfill,” Perlman said. “All too often, we inhabit a needless throwaway culture. Now the spirit of these cherished businesses and art that is part of New York City’s fabric can live, intriguingly serving as an educational resource. These historic signs also bridge the generations.”
Perlman said that his partnership with the museum has resulted in the salvaging of several significant signs.
For instance, one of the most recent signs taken into the care of the museum was that of the Alpha Donuts coffee shop in Sunnyside which closed abruptly in late June. The inside of the store was completely gutted and the only remnant of the shop that remained was its distinctive sign.
Perlman said when he heard the news of the closure, he contacted owner Patty Zorbas in order to save the 1970s-styled sign.
Other noteworthy items taken into the possession of the museum include the sign to Jones Surgical Co., a former medical supply store on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills that shuttered last year after an 80-year run, the sign to the Tower Diner, a beloved diner in Rego Park that has been demolished to make way for apartments and retail space, and the sign to the Oxford Bake Shop in Ozone Park that shut its doors in June after 94 years in business.
The sign to H Goodman Furs, located at 11607 Queens Blvd., in Forest Hills now also sits in the museum, and it was the first project Perlman and the museum teamed up on.
In Manhattan, the preservationists have saved the sign to the famed Starlite Deli near Times Square and the sign to the New York Jewelry Center in Diamond District, while in Brooklyn they have taken possession of the sign to the Gestetner Print Shop in South Williamsburg.
“The NY Sign Museum’s collection is a treasure trove,” Perlman said. “[The signs] are unique examples of commercial archaeology that tell the story of families, neighborhoods, and methods of design and construction.”
The New York Sign Museum takes down signs at no cost to building or business owners and then stores the items at its facility in Brooklyn. The foundation, which is made up of preservationists, artists, archivists, and signage professionals, also offers repairs and refurbishment, tax incentives for donations, as well as a rebate program for businesses that would like to replace their old signs.
Independently of the museum, Perlman recently salvaged the sign to Housewares World hardware store in Forest Hills, and a huge Art Deco sign to the Jay Dee Bakery in Forest Hills in 2009.