ICE CREAM. It has to be the single treat with the most universal appeal. And I expect Dairy Queen rates as the company most universally known for its soft-serve ice cream.
With 6,000 plus Dairy Queens throughout the world, this fast food franchise certainly has established itself as a dominating presence since the first DQ opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois.
Within 40 miles of my home are 35 Dairy Queens, including two right here in Faribault, and a walk-up DQ along old U.S. Highway 14 in Janesville some 30 miles away.
On a recent Sunday afternoon while passing through Janesville, located east of Mankato and with a population of about 2,100, I photographed the DQ. I wasn’t hungry, having just eaten too much at a church potluck. But I didn’t let that keep me from stopping at the DQ to photograph this long-time business with the vintage signage.
It’s the sign that caused me to stop because, well, I like and appreciate old signs as works of art. They’re also classic, charming cultural and historic icons in a community.
I was a bit dismayed, though, when the woman working the counter suggested that once the lights fizzle on the sign, it will be replaced with a newer, more modern DQ sign because, really, who could fix the lighting?
I insisted that shouldn’t happen and may have pleaded a bit. “You can’t do that.”
But she seemed resigned to the sign’s eventual replacement.
Not so fast. I noticed LEROY SIGN REG printed along the lower edge of the DQ sign. That was just enough for me to google the company and track down the sign’s origin with Leroy Signs & Manufacturing of Brooklyn Park.
After viewing a photo I took of the Janesville sign, Ralph Leroy “Lee” Reiter III told me it dates back to the late 1940s or early 1950s and is one of about 50 made by his grandfather, Ralph Leroy Reiter, Sr. While the younger Reiter doesn’t know exactly how many of these specific signs were placed in Minnesota, he says his third-generation company recently refurbished one in Columbia Heights and he knows of one in Robbinsdale and another in Brooklyn Park.
I was especially pleased to learn that the 75-year-old family business he co-owns with siblings Kaj Reiter and Andria Reiter can replace the neon lighting and otherwise refurbish the porcelain enamel finished vintage DQ sign.
Lee Reiter has high praise for the condition of the Janesville DQ sign. “It’s one of the cleanest I’ve seen and in really good condition.”
He observed, though, that the sign may have been touched up some. You could fool me. The sign as designed decades ago—DQ designed and Leroy Sign made the sign—allowed it to take in water, Lee noted.
Early on in DQ’s history, Leroy Signs made signs for DQ, last doing so about five years ago.
As for that vintage DQ sign in Janesville, Lee says if the owner ever wants to get rid of it, he’ll take it. That, in itself, should tell you something, don’t you think?
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling