Behind the Sign (Episode 1)

Behind the Sign is a documentary video series created by Cleveland SGS to highlight the unsung heroes of Cleveland’s small business community. The series focuses on people who have forged their own paths to success, contributing to the city’s identity through grit and perseverance. Their achievements aren’t measured in dollars, but in pride and longevity.

SGS is pleased to present episode one of Behind the Sign, featuring Earl Phillips, owner of U-Need-A-Sign Company. Earl has painted thousands of signs for Cleveland area businesses from his shop on East 131 Street since 1960. Even in this world of immediately accessible, full-color digital printing, Earl’s trademark red, black and white hand-lettered signs still dominate Cleveland’s storefronts. Cleveland would look markedly different in his absence. At 80 years old, Earl is one of Cleveland’s last remaining sign painters.

For affordable, one-of-a-kind handmade signage, visit U-Need-A-Sign Company at 3838 East 131st Street. Remember: a business with no sign is a sign of no business.

Cleveland SGS is a homegrown group of street archivists and artists who, since 2006, have investigated the hidden meaning of Cleveland’s commercial narrative, one block at a time. From scrapyards to clothiers, hair care to daycare, and back alleys to bar stools, SGS painstakingly chronicles the homemade imagery that makes up so much of Cleveland’s landscape. Drawing heavily on the stories, images and visual vernacular they unearth in their travels, SGS produces video, paintings, and installations deeply entwined with the city’s pulse.

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