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Photographer Wants to Brighten Downtown with Neon Museum

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2 minute read

By Kevin Collison

Well known Kansas City photographer, Nick Vedros, is on a quest to create a downtown museum for one of advertising’s more colorful tools, the vintage neon signs that once touted businesses.

“In 2017, I noticed many neon signs were in decline,” Vedros said. “There’s nothing more a part of our urban fabric than these signs, that’s what I’m all about.

“I don’t want them to go to the dump or have people buy them and take them out of town.

This sign from one of Kansas City’s best known women and children’s clothing stores was formerly at the Corinth Square location. (Photo courtesy Nick Vedros)

“That’s what LUMI is all about.”

LUMI, short for illumination, is the museum face of the 501 (c) (3) nonprofit called “Save The KC Neon, Inc.” formed by Vedros and his board members a team of local business professionals.

He and his supporters have collected 56 old signs from such iconic local businesses as Harzfeld’s, Winstead’s, Cascone’s Grill, the I-70 Drive-in and Stephenson’s Restaurant. They’ve restored 19 of them and are seeking about $300,000 to salvage the remainder.

The oldest neon signs in the Lumi collection is from the former Broadway Hardware store on Westport Road. It dates back to the early 1930s. (Photo courtesy Nick Vedros)

“We also want to rescue more signs,” Vedros said.

The official nonprofit charitable status as a 501 (c) (3) provides a federal tax deduction to encourage people to donate their old neon.

“Owners are happy to donate their signs to Lumi when their businesses close or change owners,” according to the Lumi brochure. “Needless to say, our vision is quickly becoming reality.”

Lumi also is recreating some of the city’s neon past. It’s fabricating a replica of the famed Katz Drugstore sign, its smiling cat one of the city’s most beloved images, and hopes to find a high-profile home for it as well.

The big question is where to display them.

Right now, many are being stored in warehouse space furnished by local advertising legend Bob Bernstein, co-founder of Bernstein-Rein. Others are in Vedros’ home.

“They’re definitely going to be displayed in downtown Kansas City and we’re currently nailing down our permanent museum plans and developing partnerships,” Vedros said.

The Crick Camera Shop sign from the former business at 63rd and Brookside dates to 1946. (Photo courtesy Nick Vedros)

A replica of the famed Katz Drugstore sign is being fabricated for Lumi. (Image courtesy Nick Vedros)

The Crest Food Center sign is from Belton and dates to the 1950s. (Photo courtesy Nick Vedros)

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