With all the vintage signs around Tommy Gross’ 88th Street home,he could easily open a Bay Ridge museum.
I’ve been a Brooklyn historian since I’m a little kid, saidGross, 35. Most kids in your neighborhood play outside theirhouses. One day you discover that there is a whole world outsideyour neighborhood.
Gross, who works in the TV and film industry, got hooked onhistory when he took the train into Manhattan at age 10, and becamefascinated with its expansive history.
It’s like a Pandora’s box; once you learn history, the more youwant to know, he explained.
As Gross got a bit older, he got involved with graffiti cultureand fashion – and developed an unquenchable thirst to learn allthere was to know about both subjects. But his passion for signsbegan when he saw a hand-painted one hanging on a tree on hisblock.
It said, Graffiti is out, fashion is in. Best block, bestclothes.’ Gross recalled. The sign is now hanging in his kitchen.It was alluring and really spoke to me. I just had to have it andI loved the handwriting on it.
Gross said that every sign has something to say. Everything inmy home has a story. Everything in this house reflects who I am andwhat I like, he explained.
Gross doesn’t just like hand-painted sign –, he is a realaficionado. He inspects the fonts on them, has a deep appreciationfor their craft and loves it when there are imperfections. Localhistorians Kevin Walsh, who runs the site ForgottenNY.com, and BobDiamond, who gives tours of the abandoned Atlantic Avenue subwaytunnels, are friends of his.
Gross really went wild when he found out Hinsch’s was supposedto close. He was the one who wrote a long letter to the owners onthe door and was determined to save the vintage signs inside frombeing sent to the dump. After trying to get into the closedstorefront for days, Gross spotted a garbage truck outside and thedoors wide open early one morning.
I literally ran through the doors hysterical and I saw Gerard,the owner of Skinflints, he said. ‘What the heck are we going todo? This can’t happen!’ I told him. Gerard kept telling me not toworry, that it would be okay.
Gross had to calm down before he realized what he was being told- Hinsch’s was to be saved by the owners of Skinflints. Plus, Grossgot to take home all of the old signs that were inside.
I was already willing to dish out thousands of dollars for thesigns, he said. I was super psyched that I got to keep them.History will live on in my house and that is the most importantpart.
Gross said that he enjoys the lost art of hand-painting signs.I never charge for my work. I don’t do it because I get money forit, I do it because I love it, he said. If there is no one tocarry on that torch of nostalgia, what then?