Ghost signs are the faded ads that have improbably survived wind, rain, snow, graffiti, and the wrecking ball to provide clues to what life was like decades ago. A surprising number of ghost signs remain in Downtown and Uptown Manhattan, but Brooklyn ghost signs are also abundant. The oldest Brooklyn ghost signs are painted on brick walls. The secret of their survival is the lead paint, banned in 1978, that leached into the brick. Other signs are carved in stone, manufactured in steel, or lit with neon. Some are revealed when a newer sign is removed, like this fish market’s sign in Bushwick pictured above. Use these 10 Brooklyn ghost signs as a starting point; there are many more to discover just by looking up!
1. French Garment Cleaners, 85 Lafayette Avenue
French Garment Cleaners opened in Fort Greene in the mid-twentieth century. When Alec Stuart and Celeste Wright opened their indie clothing boutique here in 2006, they preserved the neon sign and even adopted the French Garment Cleaners Co. name.
Stuart and Wright closed the business in 2016. Bird, a designer fashion company with shops throughout Brooklyn, opened in the French Garment Cleaners building later that year. Bird also maintained the dry cleaner’s ghost signage. “Owner Jennifer Mankins said that dwindling margins, rising rents, and direct-to-consumer competition, all compounded by the pandemic, made turning a profit impossible,” reported Business of Fashion. All of Bird’s stores closed in 2021.
A few steps from French Garment Cleaners is what seems to be the remains of a ghost sign of the Scozzari Bakery. It was created for the 2015 film Brooklyn, the story of a young Irishwoman who emigrated to the borough in the early 1950s to find employment.