An artistic resurgence
Most of Neon Family’s work is custom interior neon signage for restaurants, where customers enjoy taking selfies with the distinctive lettering.
“I started in a very different phase of neon’s evolution,” says Collard. “A lot of Montreal’s older signs had been left to deteriorate and basically served as toilets for pigeons, but then neon came back in style in the 1970s with disco and the ’80s with Miami Vice. Today, it’s back again, but in a more artistic way. With these smaller projects, we can put more time into them, so their design looks good even up close.”
Their clients also include office buildings, design firms and media production houses.
“Exposed neon lettering is part of their decor and branding,” Collard explains. “We do some channel letters too, but those mostly use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) now.”
There is less call for outdoor neon signage, due in part to heavier restrictions imposed by local regulations and bylaws, but also to Montreal’s bitterly cold winters.
“Mercury in glass tubes doesn’t like the cold,” says Collard. “In the ’50s, there were maintenance trucks on the road all the time to keep the neon signs going, but that’s not the case today. Outside, LEDs are getting all of the work.”
Continuing a legacy
As mentioned, Collard also continues to educate the next generation of neon glass tube benders.
“I’ve been training a few guys to work with us,” he explains. “It’s a slow process. This isn’t high-tech, it’s from the Industrial Age. They’re not autonomous just yet, but when they are, we’ll be able to take on more projects. I’m getting old and can’t do everything anymore!”
Taking an active approach to training is especially important in a niche field. There aren’t many other neon shops still operating in Montreal.
“I’m also not too aware of opportunities in the broader sign industry, because our focus is so specific,” he says. “Fortunately, in our market, people are aware of my experience and that has brought credibility to Neon Family. You might say we’re known for our savoir-faire!”
For more information, visit www.neonfamily.com.