Signs of the Times

Sign stating "store closed."This summer, while driving back from a day trip to the beach on our vacation, Karen and I passed a closed business in a small town in New Hampshire. The scene was what one might have expected. The storefront looked hollow, the windows dark and seeming like the eyes of a person who had seen tragedy…detached, too troubled inside to fully comprehend what they see externally. The parking lot empty. The sign still advertising, forlornly, the business that was no longer contained therein.

I found myself wondering why it is that businesses, when they close, leave their signs?

I pass old storefronts like this periodically, mostly when we’re traveling, that have closed but that still have their old signs in front, or on doors, or both, even though everything else looks abandoned. I’m always struck by a certain sadness when I see this. That was someone’s livelihood lost, devoured by a merciless system, perhaps leaving lives in its wake, certainly trailing dreams and hopes lost, unfulfilled.

I’ve worked for myself, but never owned a physical storefront. I have no referent as to what that might be like. Perhaps, when a business closes like this, it is too expensive to remove the sign? I wonder how the owners feel when something else goes into that space and removes their old sign?

I wonder what the new business owner feels like, replacing the old sign with their own? Does the sense of loss pass on to them, a warning of what could be in the future?

The sign left behind adds to the sense of tragedy in many ways. A document of sorts, a monument, almost, that a good thing once stood here. I’m sure that many times my feelings about these scenes are melodramatic. Certainly, businesses move, close after a good many years when the owner retires, and other perfectly normal scenarios.

Sometimes, though, I’m right. Sometimes, something was lost, and, for whichever times that fact is true, I empathize deeply.

Image attribution: Chris Chan under Creative Commons.