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This article considers the unique features of what we call Old School storefront signs in Brooklyn, NY. These signs, which were often hand-painted and notably text-rich with large-size fonts, signaled an openness to all in a highly diverse, multi-cultural urban area. At the same time, very laconic, ambiguous and ironic gentrifying (or what we call New School) signage is replacing these Old School storefront signs at a rapid pace. Using sociolinguistic, semiotic and aesthetic analysis, we show how Old School shop signage acts as a “register of place.” The openness of this register allows it to adopt and incorporate elements preferred by Brooklyn’s gentrifying population. Also, we show how New School businesses begin to take on certain semiotic and textual features of Old School shops in order to survive in the face of corporate development. This appropriation of form/format, we argue, further demonstrates the effectiveness of Old School “rules,” which allow these signs to remain despite accelerating gentrification and the relentless march of corporate capitalism. Old School, as a marker of history and as an iconic form of place, is a living style that represents the past, has been transformed by the present, and perhaps has the power to change the future.
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