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Northeast Ohio is full of creative people following their dreams while trying to make a living. From jewelry crafted out of broken street glass to sound equipment engineered for rock stars, see what people are "making" in the community.

Making It: Mr. Neon Keeps Signs Glowing in Canton

Canton neon sign maker Ken Rossi works on a tube of the lighted glass in his shop. [ Jeff Haynes/ideastream ]
Canton neon sign maker Ken Rossi works on a tube of the lighted glass in his shop.

MAKER: Ken Rossi


HIS INSPIRATION:  Ken Rossi recalls walking into a pastry store when he was a kid and seeing some neon tubes bordering the window. 

"I remember going up and grabbing one of them,” he said.  “Didn’t get shocked, luckily.  It mesmerized me with the color and the glow.  How do they do that?  How was that made?"

BREAKING INTO THE CLUB: Rossi said it was difficult to learn the trade because his mentor, Chester Beans, was initially suspicious of his intentions. 

“Sitting in the shop through the years I was bugging him: ‘Teach me the trade. Teach me the trade.’  He said, ‘No, no, no.’ Since it’s an art form, it’s just a protective type of profession,” Rossi said. 

A NATIONAL REACH FROM NORTHEAST OHIO: Rossi’s done custom sign work for customers as far as Alaska and Hawaii.  He’s also done commercial glass-bending work nationally, including the iconic martini glasses for the Bar Louie restaurant chain.  

CLASSIC SIGN HOLDS THE KEY: "You have to learn four basic bends of the glass," Rossi said.  "You have to learn those and practice, practice, practice.  If you can do an 'Open' sign, that pretty much gives you all the bends you’ll need to do neon."

LED CAN’T MATCH NEON’S SOUL: “I think Neon is unique in that it’s actually hand-made,” Rossi said.  “It’s crafted, it’s sculpted.  You’re actually bending glass and giving life to it. 

Mr Neon works to keep Canton aglow as it shined in 1952 [image / Tom Haas]

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.