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What happens to controversial Broadway Toys R Us sign if it leaves?

Last Updated Mar 24, 2018 at 5:50 pm PDT

(Renee Bernard, NEWS 1130)

The overlapping sign was a compromise reached between a developer and the city back in the mid-1990s

The BowMac sign must stay because it has protected status in the city

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With the demise of Toys R Us in the US, there are questions remaining about the future of the toy retailer in Canada.

Vancouverites may welcome the departure of the store at its West Broadway location – just because of its vertical signage.

You might have noticed the big overlapping sign – the word BowMac peaks out from behind the Toys R Us sign.

That’s because the 80-foot BowMac sign was once the tallest free-standing neon sign in North America, and has protected status in the city.

“The BowMac is actually a heritage-listed object for the City of Vancouver. It was the one Jimmy Pattison cut his teeth on before taking over Neon Products,” says John Atkin, a local historian and the overlapping signs’ designer.

BowMac stood for Bowell McLean, a car dealership. When the dealership closed in the mid ’90s, the developer of the site wanted to alter the sign to reflect its new occupants.

The city, however, told them it was too iconic to change.

That’s when Atkin had a thought.

“I rang up the developer and asked what they wanted. And I talked to the city to ask what they wanted. So I drew a Toys R Us sign on top of the BowMac sign.”

And a compromise was reached.

However, the overlapping design wasn’t necessarily well-received.

“There was a lot of ‘Really, what the hell are they doing?’ That was the most common comment. A few of them were sort of ‘I get it.’ Some of them looked at it and said “Huh?’ And when you explained what had happened, they would say ‘OK, I get it.'”

Are Vancouverites ready for another debate about the signage if in fact Toys R Us vacates?

“The question would be who goes in there, and is it a major retailer to want to have their lights on Broadway,” says Atkin.

Does the neon and other lights on the sign still work?

“The components are still there, but it would need a top to bottom restoration.”