H&C Coffee Sign

The iconic H&C Coffee sign in downtown Roanoke was dark for a few days in November after the sign’s animator mechanism broke down. It has since been repaired.

Fans of Roanoke’s famed neon H&C Coffee sign may have to get used to a new flavor.

The beloved downtown landmark has been dark for a few days. When it next lights up, instead of blinking on in a sequence that ends with a kettle pouring a cup of glowing red coffee, all parts of the sign will shine at once. In other words, it won’t be animated.

Jim Sears, president and general manager of Center in the Square, said that the sign’s animator mechanism has broken down. It’s unclear how much it will cost to replace or repair it, so until that can be determined, the sign will be rewired so all its neon tubes are lit.

“We’ll get her up and running as soon as we can,” he said.

Built in 1948, the sign began its neon life atop the old Woods Brothers Coffee Co. building on Campbell Avenue Southeast. In 1964 it moved to the old Billy’s Ritz building on the Roanoke City Market, where it stood for decades. After a fundraising campaign in 2004 and 2005 that raised more than $150,000 for repairs and maintenance, the sign migrated to the Mill Mountain Theatre Atelier, the former Shenandoah Hotel building owned by Center in the Square. The sign was moved so that it could still be seen from Interstate 581 once the Taubman Museum of Art was constructed.

Sears said most of the funds designated for maintaining the sign have been spent, as the aging parts tend to need repairs three or four times a year. A complete restoration of the sign with new parts could cost at least $75,000, he said.

Mike Allen covers government happenings in Franklin County and Botetourt County for The Roanoke Times and also writes the weekly Arts & Extras column.

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