NEW YORK - In a city where massive video displays have taken over the streetscape, one TriBeCa business is still making signs the old fashioned way with neon.
For the last 46 years, "Let there Be Neon" has been creating colorful outdoor displays and indoor pieces of art, inside its two-floor workshop on White Street.
"Drawing with light. It's beautiful," noted Jeff Friedman, the store's owner.
Workers assemble the lights from start to finish. They take clear glass tubes, bend them into shape and then pump them with gas, either neon, or argon.
When an electric current is sent through, the gas lights up - neon glows red; argon glows blue. The variety of colors comes from either tinting the glass or lining it with phosphor.
"It's a functional piece. Whether people are putting it in their homes or their restaurant or for public display, it's functional. You turn it on, it's light," Friedman said.
During the early to middle 1900s neon signs lined Times Square and storefronts across the city. But eventually advertisements illuminated by fluorescent lights became more popular, and the old neon signage started disappearing.
"The period when everything single business, every restaurant, every little drug store in the city had to have that neon, outdoor storefront sign//is gone forever, really, and the few that remain, as much as people love them, the undercurrents are just taking them away," said Thomas Rinaldi, author of "New York Neon".
As one of the last neon manufacturers left in the city, "Let There be Neon" is trying to preserve the craft. Friedman says these days business is booming. He does work for clients like Bloomingdale's, WeWork and Kieh’ls - companies that cater to people who enjoy the nostalgia, the design and the craftsmanship of neon lights.
"We feel whether it's neon or pickles people are really appreciative of like, wow these people are still creating something by hand. It's beautiful," Friedman said.