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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

10-foot neon arrow will again point way to Uptown Swanton

BY ANGIE SCHMITT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Aaron Koepf and employees of Letters and Neon have been repairing the long-unused sign, which was discovered in storage. It is expected to be installed before Christmas. Aaron Koepf and employees of Letters and Neon have been repairing the long-unused sign, which was discovered in storage. It is expected to be installed before Christmas.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

It would have been hard to miss Uptown Swanton from the early 1940s to the late 1970s.

A 10-foot, arrow-shaped neon sign pointed the way to the village center on Main Street for all who drove along Airport Highway.

Soon the historic business district will have its neon beacon once again.

A group of community members and business leaders has undertaken a mission to restore the historic sign. The illuminated arrow will be installed, pointing down Main Street from Airport Highway, before Christmas.

More than $10,000 in donated money and services has gone into restoring the sign, Neil Toeppe, executive director of the Swanton Area Chamber of Commerce, said.

The sign was first erected in 1942 or 1943, as best as project leaders can determine. It stood on Airport Highway until the late 1970s - nobody can agree just where, Mr. Toeppe said.

"It's nostalgic in the community," he said. "It's sparking a lot of conversation. Folks say, 'Do you remember where the sign was?'•"

Months ago, an employee of the village's public works department discovered the old sign in storage. The Swanton Area Chamber of Commerce decided to adopt it, calling on member businesses to contribute services, Mr. Toeppe said.

The restoration fits nicely with one of the chamber's current initiatives: revitalizing Uptown. The plan was to improve the aesthetics and awareness of Uptown while boosting advertising of Uptown businesses.

During the last year, the chamber supported the village's efforts to add flower beds to the streetscape. The road itself was improved in 2003, village Administrator Jon Gochenour said.

"People have forgotten that there's a downtown," Mr. Toeppe said, saying Airport Highway has overshadowed Uptown in recent years. "We're talking about trying to create more interest in Main Street Swanton."

The Ohio Department of Transportation estimates that 14,000 to 16,000 vehicles a day pass the businesses on Airport Highway, but many overlook approximately 50 businesses just a short distance away in Uptown. About 5,000 vehicles travel Main Street daily, ODOT estimates.

Diane Halsey, branch manager for First Federal of Delta on Main Street, said the effort and similar endeavors to make downtown more appealing are generating attention.

"We've beautified it. We've added flowers to make it more attractive, more appealing," she said. "We just want the awareness factor that there's so much to see and do."

Terry Sampsel of Sampsel's Body Shop joined many local businesses donating services to the project. The Airport Highway business helped with the painting.

"We're trying to bring a little history back," Mr. Sampsel said.

Mr. Toeppe is excited to see Airport Highway businesses as well as Main Street businesses contributing to the effort.

"Businesses know that if they support each other, a rising tide will lift all boats," he said.

"It's going to be impressive. We're pumped," he added.

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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