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Arctic Bear sign a piece of Albany, family history

Letter to the Editor

As stated in the Sunday Albany Herald, it is “amazing what a picture can do.” It surely “spins up memories” for my family and myself. The Arctic Bear sign was built and installed by my father, Jesse Coston, who was the owner of Albany Neon Sign Company from 1947 until he retired and sold the business in 1977. It is still an ongoing business being operated as ANS located in Adel.

As a teenager working after school and summers during high school and college with my Dad and other employees, including my brother Bob, I can recall performing service calls on the “Bear,” usually to repair a broken piece of neon. This sign was built before computers were used to animate signs of this nature. At the time it was built and installed, it was written up in the neon trade publication Signs of the Times as being a state-of-the-art sign. It was built with “flashers” and hard wiring and, as I recall, it was easy to service with only a good pair of pliers and a screwdriver! No longer the case for typical signs today!

The only other sign of its type at this time was a sign for Bennett’s Feed Store when it was located on Broad Avenue. I think it was built and installed before the Arctic Bear sign. It featured “little chicks” that would move across the bottom of the sign and, upon reaching the end, would peck the ground as if to eat. As a young boy it was amazing to see!

I have been fortunate enough to have returned to Albany after having lived elsewhere since 1964 and to see that the sign has been saved for future generations. I have shown this sign to my children and grandchildren and have explained to them its history and let them touch the actual sign. It was displayed at AHS’s 50th reunion in 2010, and I was able to get a picture of my wife and myself standing beside it. I am also honored that it was featured as the Easter Seal Christmas ornament a few years ago. Thanks again for your articles about the sign and the original owners, the Johnstons.

JAMES R. COSTON

Albany