Signs are all around us but we very often pay little attention to them. They really are a part of our history and culture and tell a stories all their own. Today at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati we took a walk down memory lane. For me, this visit confirmed my suspicion that Heather really is a “sign geek!” I think she took 1000 pictures today. Seriously though, this unique museum has a collection that not only traces the evolution of signs in the U.S., but also the change in our culture over the last couple centuries. Kevin Wallace gave us a tour and explained the different eras, from wooden signs with gold leaf, to neon and molded plastic signs the museum covers them all. Kevin’s enthusiasm was contagious and he warned us that from now on we would not be able to look at signs the same way. We would no longer see them as just something given direction or information, but as a piece of art and history. I’m curious to see over the next couple days driving if he is right!
One of the best parts of the sign museum is the room set up as an actual city street. There is a gas station, hardware store, barber, jewelry store, and a drug store just to name a few. Complete with fire hydrants and cobblestone streets, this exhibit really gives a visitor the feeling of stepping into the past. Many people have their wedding receptions in this room, which would be super cool! All of the store fronts have windows that display more signs or tools from the sign industry. This place is beyond description and photos really don’t do it justice. One must experience it. After a million photos, Gail and I had to drag Heather out of there… but wait there’s more! There are more signs outside, and then just like Kevin warned us, we started seeing interesting signs everywhere, painted on brick walls and hanging from old factories. I was as bad as Heather, so I guess I’m a bit of a sign geek, too J.
We stopped for a quick lunch at Penn Station. Being from the North, I’m a bit of a Philly cheesesteak snob but Naji convinced me to try a Philly from here. I admit I was fairly skeptical but pleasantly surprised. In fact we have stopped at Penn Station twice now on this trip to get a cheesesteak!
Our next destination was Jungle Jim’s International Market. To say that this is a lowly grocery store would be the understatement of the century. This place is a foodie playground!! With 6.5 acres and 300,000 square feet of space, Jungle Jim’s is by far the largest store I’ve ever been in. The king of this realm of tastiness is Jim Bonaminio, but EVERYONE calls him Jungle, and the name suits him well.
We met his son Jimmy at the entrance and he gave us a tour. He showed us the largest cheese section I’ve ever seen in one spot. Jimmy believes it is unofficially the largest cheese store in the country. There is literally cheese from almost every continent around the world. They also have The Big Cheese, an 822 pound provolone that is hanging up in a special display. It ages for 18 months, and then it is carefully taken down with a crane and cut up for the customers. The wine and beer section is equally impressive with its tasting bar that resembles an English pub. We also were drawn to the extensive olive and fresh salsa bars, and a whole two-sided display of specialty butters!
One of the most unique parts of Jungle Jim’s is the bathroom, or rather the entrance to the bathroom. It looks every bit like a port-o-potty. It was awarded the best bathroom in America for its creativity! There is a great spot for a selfie and if a visitor is brave enough they might open the door to the port-o-potty and discover a lovely normal bathroom.
I could spend days writing about everything that is part of a Jungle Jim’s experience, so here are some of the highlights to encourage you to visit yourself: A HUGE fishing boat the houses part of the seafood market, a giant firetruck above the hot sauce department, Robin Hood and Little John in Sherwood Forest in the British section, and “store fronts” that represent several European nations and their products.
As we wound our way through the store with Jimmy, a candy bar on a fishing line appeared out of nowhere! There on a balcony overlooking the store stood Jungle, dressed in fishing garb. He waved to us and tossed some candy down for the children. About 15 minutes later he joined us in his Steam Punk Pirate outfit, complete with rings and black sword umbrella. He asked me if he was a business owner or an entertainer…. I would definitely say both! He clearly LOVES to interact with his customers. He thoroughly enjoys seeing families walking around together in his store. He wanted to create a place where mom, dad, and kiddos would want to go together because it is not just grocery shopping – it is about the fun! I would say he has succeeded in his mission. Another mission he has is recycling. Many of the items in the store are pieces he found when he went “junking.” His largest item is a monorail system that he bought for $1from a local amusement park that did not want it any longer. This system has its own station and actually runs on a track that goes around one side of his building. How fun is that???
Heather and I had the unique experience of seeing Jungle’s costume room. This wardrobe is full of his outfits that he will wear around the store depending on his mood. He has an outfit from India, China, a wizard outfit, a Nascar uniform and a buffalo headdress. Jimmy said that Jungle had never taken anyone in there, so we felt very honored. Thanks for sharing that with us Jungle!
Jungle prides himself on encouraging his employees and recognizing those who go above the call of duty. He has a sort of prize system which includes a wheel that looks a lot like a mini Wheel of Fortune wheel. I got to spin it and it landed on $500 which apparently never happens. Jungle is a big card player and often settles deals with card, so he wanted to play cards with me. I am not a card player, but how hard could it be? Needless to say I lost, but since I had landed on the $500 and I am not a card player, Jungle said that it would just cancel out. We also met Jungle’s wife Joani, who is just as kind and friendly as Jimmy and Jungle. After finding a few items we wanted to take home with us we left the store feeling like we had spent a few hours laughing with old friends and having a blast in the best “grocery store” on the planet!
Enjoying the Foodie journey!!!
Courtney and Heather
P.S. Kathy Lane you are a treasure, thank you for all your help!!