Ghost Signs

They’re called Ghost Signs, apparently. When a building is being renovated and more recent signage or panelling is removed, fragments of the names and advertising blurb of businesses that occupied the property decades earlier pop back into vision for a bit. Sometimes they can stay exposed, other times they’re just visible for a wee while until the new branding goes up. They’re lovely evocative chunks of the past, and Ghost Signs is a very cool phrase.

Commercial retail can be a brutal business and long-established properties can have played host to many tenants. Scaffolding has recently been taken off the massive building that sits on the corner of Victoria Street and Duke Street in Douglas. The previous tenants have vacated the gaff and it seems to be preparing for its next lease of life.  As the refurb continues, two Ghost Signs are now visible. 

The first one is very old indeed. I knew that Boots the chemist has once been located here, and could make out the logo that the company still uses today. Beyond that, the words are tricky to make out. Zooming in on the photo and researching historical branding, I eventually worked out that this wording reads Boots Cash Chemists Perfumers

While researching this article, I dived into the truly wondrous iMuseum (seriously, you can get lost for hours in there) and found a photo of the property dated 1969. Boots had already moved out, and the place was boarded up. So the Boots wording is possibly seeing daylight for the first time in at the very least 52 years. Style-wise it looks much more Roaring Twenties than Swinging Sixties. This is a properly old Ghost Sign.

After Boots, the building was occupied by the Playground Toy Centre, and that’s my earliest memory of it. This was a toyshop in the fine old tradition, with every available piece of space groaning with bikes and boardgames, dolls and dressing-up costumes. Everything little hearts could desire. Batteries not included. 

A long time ago, in a childhood far, far away, this was where I first discovered Star Wars figures, a huge display of them, towering over me. On my earliest visit, I only had enough cash to buy one figure and chose Darth Vader. Psychologists, please don’t @ me. 

Shortly afterwards, I felt a great disturbance in the pocket money as the price of my plastic pals jumped from 99p to £1.25 each. Despite this, my visits to Playground continued as often as possible, depending on budget and the generosity of relatives. It makes my jaded old heart dance like an Ewok to see some of the Playground sign once again, still as richly purple and gold as I remember it.  

Of course, the fact that these Ghost Signs are currently blinking back into the light means that the building is entering another phase of its existence. New logos and advertising banners will be placed (ever-so-carefully, please) over the phantoms of Boots and Playground. Another chapter will begin, and the ghosts will go back to sleep.

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