Sign shop stays strong after 25 years
Truckee-resident Rob McCarthy crouches down to hand paint pine trees on a sign in his shop. With efficient strokes, he carefully adds detail to what would otherwise be a basic form.
McCarthy steps back from his work to look at the big picture: a 10-foot, industrial-looking traffic sign that will be posted on the corner of Joerger Drive and the 267 bypass.
“Living up here in a small town, you have to do a little bit of everything,” McCarthy said. “Some things are simple; some things are fancy.”
McCarthy, 52, has owned his sign shop for 25 years. For most of that time, McCarthy Sign Co. was located in the old Chinese Herb Shop on South River Street. Recently, he moved out of the herb shop so the building’s owner, John McManus, could renovate the building.
“I miss the Chinese Herb Shop. My grandchildren had a lot of good times in there,” he said.
With the 6.5-foot ceiling heights in the old shop, McCarthy said he had to think through how he would set up his larger projects.
“It was a constant joy and struggle,” he said.
Now McCarthy Sign Co. is located on River Park Place. The new warehouse has 100 square feet less space than the herb shop, but much higher ceilings.
Another day, another sign
McCarthy moved to Truckee via Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. He worked for Disney for six years as an artist, creating signs and scenic art for the theme park.
He came to Truckee in 1978 and found work making signs and maps for area ski resorts.
“It’s not everyday the ski resorts need a sign. After you did them all …” he said. “But, most people need some sort of sign.”
McCarthy opened his shop and found a lot of success with the local market.
For all the change Truckee has been through in the past 25 years, McCarthy said sign-making has pretty much stayed the same. He still has his residential and commercial customers, and they still need signs, he said.
“Even the subject matter hasn’t changed a whole lot,” he said. “But I do see a lot more higher-end fancier signs.”
McCarthy and his five employees make signs out of all types of wood, stone and metal – everything but neon. He carves, sandblasts and paints his work using old craftsman methods or new sign-making technology – whatever fits the project.
“We used to have to hand letter everything. Now a computer cuts them out, and customers don’t have to wait for drying time,” he said. “We still hand paint, though.”
McCarthy’s work can be seen all over Truckee – from the sign at the Past Time Club to the Charlie Chaplin mural downtown.
A fine artist at heart, McCarthy said he likes creating murals the most, as long as the weather is pleasant.
“You can’t have a computer paint a mural on a brick wall,” he said.
McCarthy also enjoys painting with watercolors and swing dancing in his free time. He teaches swing classes with his wife, Jeanie, at Tahoe Truckee High School.
In his future, McCarthy sees his shop’s clientele changing a bit.
“As the town grows, I expect to see a lot more higher-end classier-looking signs – boutique-type signs,” he said.
But, that’s OK with him, he says. After all, he is an artist.
McCarthy Sign Co. is located at 10434 River Park Place, suite 2. Contact McCarthy at 587-3611.
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