Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Last week, I was awaiting a traffic light at East Hollis and Main Street facing City Hall, when I glanced to the top of the Spaulding Building to my left and noticed a billboard perched stoically at the top. Billboards are becoming rarer nowadays, what with the negative impact they are perceived to have on the landscape and environment. But it immediately brought to mind the 1971 hit tune by The Five Man Electrical Band titled “Signs.” The lyrics declare, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.” Although those lines leaned more towards the issue of exclusion in the 70’s, while looking at that billboard as the tune rang in my head, I could not help but think of the iconic sign that once graced the top of that building. It touted the great taste of Cott soda, back then a popular brand of soft drink. It was one of several classic signs found in Nashua at the time. It smacked a bit of Las Vegas, with its neon and chaser lights spelling out the company’s name and logo, “It’s Cott to be good!” But it brought back memories of a few other signs in the city that called to us as we passed by in that era.

Nashua’s original Dunkin’ Donuts (now simply Dunkin) is still located at the corner of Main and Canal Street. But when it first opened, a very tall retro sign, essentially two masts holding what appeared to be two banners, the upper flashing “Dunkin,” the lower flashing “Donuts,” stood at that corner. It was open 24 hours and one could not miss that oversized metallic carnival barker inviting you to come on in for a donut and coffee. Legend has it that the founder of Dunkin’ Donuts, William Rosenberg, had difficulty obtaining seed financing because he was told he could never make money selling coffee and donuts. Really? Read on to learn more about his other Nashua influence.

Howdy Beefburgers was situated at the old railroad station parcel at the intersection of East Hollis and Temple, the location of today’s Nashua Diner. There, one could buy a burger, shake and fries for under $1.00. The inspiration for Howdy’s was actually the old Howdy Doody kid’s show and yup, it too was founded by William Rosenberg, the same guy who founded Dunkin’ Donuts, as a segue into serving hot food. Some locations were Dunkin’ and Howdy combo stores. The Howdy Beefburger sign was large and v-shaped, with the words “Howdy” and “Beefburgers” in neon with banners below advertising delicious fries and creamy thick shakes. Spinning clockwise at the top was a “15c” (15 cents) promoting the price of a burger. The sign was quite visible to anyone travelling from Nashua to Hudson or vice versa.

The first of Nashua’s Howard Johnson’s was located where Lovering Volvo sits today on the DW Highway. Another HoJos was later opened further north on the same highway. The HoJo sign was unique in that it advertised not only the accommodations that could be had at the “motor lodge”, but their restaurant’s 28 flavors of ice cream too, with bright white neon outlined chef and little boy figures sitting at the top. The chain was known for their orange roofs, a color very prominent in the sign. As of 2018, only one HoJos remained in existence in Lake George, N.Y.

Last, but certainly not least, who could forget the classic Simoneau Plaza sign that welcomed shoppers to 300 Main Street for many years, with its rotating star resembling a classic Christmas tree top? Like the Howdy Beefburger sign, this sign was also a large “V” with a bow shaped “Simoneau Plaza” logo attached and banners below listing tenants. In the sixties, Simoneau Plaza was packed with shoppers looking for the best bargains at anchor stores such as Bradlees and W.T. Grants. The sign stood tall at the entrance ensuring potential shoppers would not miss their opportunity.

Depending upon how one sees it, today we still have signs, signs, everywhere a sign, but many are in the form of banners across our electronic devices or televisions. With that said, we haven’t really gotten away from them, but I think I’m getting another type of sign that this is enough about signs for now. …

Don Canney is a freelance writer and professional voice artist. He was born and raised in downtown Nashua with great interest in Nashua history circa 1950-1970. He now resides in Litchfield.