Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Owatonna: Sign sign everywhere a sign March 3, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Downtown Owatonna streetscape 1


THIS PHOTO, SHOT while driving through downtown Owatonna, calls for close study. There’s just so much here. It’s like a Where’s Waldo or an I Spy book. The longer I look at this image, the more I see.

Signs dominate. They are everywhere, although one is missing in the empty frame above the bar.

Notice also the art—murals, bicycle bike racks and an artsy boxed street lamp.

Notice the buildings with a hodgepodge of bricks and a history to which I am oblivious. I’m sure locals know the story behind The Emporium Dry Goods Groceries Shoes signage.

Owatonna apparently has a thing about signs, at least to my visitor’s eyes. Around the corner in the heart of downtown, “thirty minute parking signs” populate the retail area where I shopped. These made me feel unwelcome, like “Don’t linger and shop in our downtown.” I kept checking my watch while perusing the merchandise at a party supply store.

Upon leaving that shop, I noticed signs popping up everywhere like unsightly weeds. I can’t recall specific messages. But most had to do with parking or loitering or other city ordinances. I doubt I’ve ever seen so many signs in a single Minnesota downtown. Visually, the sign clutter detracts. From a visitor perspective, the signs send a message that is not exactly welcoming. The next time I’m in Owatonna, I intend to examine this issue more closely. Maybe count the signs…

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “In Owatonna: Sign sign everywhere a sign”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    Signs are a double edge sword for me. I love the vintage ones; seemingly every time I attempt to photograph one, there is a bright and shiny new one – or multiple (like no parking, etc) in the frame that really detracts from the scene.

    • I’m with you on loving vintage signs and even new ones with a vintage feel.

      Likewise I can relate to you on how signs can detract from a photo.

      Certainly some street-side signs are necessary. It’s when they become excessive and/or are not tastefully done that they become a visual and unwelcoming issue for me.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    But what a cute bike rack that is. See—I looked past the signs. 🙂

  3. Busy, Busy Capture! Signs, everywhere are signs . . . Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. Sue Ready Says:

    Once you start looking for specific things it does seem like that is all that you see.Reminds me of when we were building a house and needed to pick shingles. We only had 7 kinds from builder to pick from and then we go driving and that is all we noticed were roofs.
    A lot of signs in a town can be a distraction especially for the driver you can only take in so many at a time and maintain your concentration. And when you think about it some signs just aren’t even nice looking. plain ugly and need to be refurbished.. Of course I’m overlooking the purpose of the sign to identify a certain location to draw in business. I am forwarding your post to a friend who goes to Owatonna every week to babysit and get her thoughts.

    • You are right. When we focus on something, that’s all we see.

      I will be curious to hear what your friend has to say about the signage in downtown Owatonna.

      What I particularly dislike are those electronic signs that have sprouted up all over. They’re unattractive and visual clutter, in my opinion. Most of the time I am unable to read the messages while driving by anyway. Thus they lose their value.

      My church is investigating signage options given we don’t currently have a sign along the side of our complex that borders one of the busiest streets through Faribault. An electronic sign is under consideration. I would rather see a tastefully done sign by Brushworks, a local sign company that creates beautiful signage that blends well with historic Faribault.

  5. There was a song back in the 70’s I think, called “Signs”.. It went something like this to begin with..’Signs, signs everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery breakin’ my mind, do this don’t, do that, can’t you read the sign?….’ It should be the town theme song.

  6. Expectational Says:

    I still remember when the “No Loitering” signs went up in Owatonna. It was just after I moved here so I have no idea to what extent loitering was a problem. I do know that I have never felt threatened by loiterers in Owatonna but I have experienced discomfort with loiterers in other, similar-sized towns in Southern MN. I guess if people want to loiter they can go to one of our many parks. I also wonder what the legal definition of loitering is. It seems like it could be a very subjective thing.

    • I agree about the subjectivity of the definition of “loitering.” For quite awhile, folks complained about Somali men hanging around on street corners and sidewalks in downtown Faribault. The issue will likely arise again once the weather warms and these men begin gathering. They live downtown. The street corners and sidewalks are their front yards and porches. I’ve never felt threatened by them. As long as they aren’t engaging in criminal behavior, I don’t understand why this is an issue.

      Thinking even more on loitering, I believe we have signs posted in our church parking lot banning skateboarders. I’ll have to look if those are still there.

  7. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Vintage signs are really neat but I agree that it sounds very unwelcoming.

  8. Jackie Says:

    “Bar for sale….with kitchen”. Gotta love it!

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