The cracks that used to be seen in the old neon sign will be replaced by cracks in the voices of longtime Novato patrons who will see the refurbished sign hanging inside the hardware store starting Saturday.
Several people who visited the store Friday afternoon burst into smiles and held their hands over their mouths while the crew installed the seven-foot-tall sign high over the main aisle.
“How ‘bout that? I remember that,” said longtime resident Jerry Peters as he walked into the store and chatted with co-owner Chip Young. “I grew up with that. You did, too.”
The sign was installed above the double doors at 1107 Grant Ave. when the building was constructed in 1946 — just a year after another famous neon sign above the Novato Theater was turned on for the first time a few blocks to the east. The Pini sign was a beacon of westside Grant and seen every day by generations of local families. Many remember when the sign’s neon made it look like the trademark hammer would move up and down as if driving a nail. Today, “moving” neon like is illegal because it’s a distraction to drivers.
Young’s parents bought the hardware store in 1968 along with the family of his current partner, Steve Saunders. The two sons bought out their parents in 1983. Young said countless people have shared memories of the old building — which sits vacant today — and people from San Rafael have told him they would know they were “halfway there” when they made trips to Petaluma or vice versa.
Since Pini moved a mile south of the Grant Avenue location in 2004, the sign has spent about seven years at in Bel Marin Keys undergoing a slow overhaul. Damage was repaired from when a passing moving van clipped the sign years ago. Everybody who contributed donated his labor.
“We worked on it whenever we had time,” said James Selle during a break in the installation Friday.
During that span, Young said he was asked about the signs whereabouts constantly. “It’s like those dachshund signs in San Francisco” from the Doggie Diners that went missing for so long, he said. People routinely offered to buy the sign and were glad to hear it hadn’t been destroyed.
The sign weighed about 130 pounds, but during the facelift it gained about 50 pounds because of new reinforcement steel, sheet metal and electrical transformers. All the paint and neon was replaced as well.
Young couldn’t wipe smile from his face during the nearly three-hour installation process. Selle worked up a sweat with Brian Durkin, Larry Thoms, Ben Wagner and David Salanic, using a scissor-style forklift to secure bolts and braces on the ceiling from which to hang the sign. Once it was secured, Durkin reached high above the sign and plugged in the electrical cords.
Right after the store closed Friday night, Selle flicked on the neon light. The work crew and several staff members and onlookers broke into cheers and then stepped back toward the front doors to see what it looked like as people enter the store.
“It’s great. You walk in the door and it just says, ‘Hello, how are ya?’” Selle said.
“It’s beautiful,” Thoms said. “People are going to love seeing this again.”
“It brings back a lot of memories,” Young said.