SODO Stories, Made in SODO Series: Western Neon
The SODO Stories, Made in SODO series, is a collection of stories about business owners who create, design and sell products that are made in SODO. The businesses featured in the Made in SODO series are all featured in our Made in SODO video. Each story/business is unique, and they help to create a vibrant community here in SODO. To watch the video, it can be found here: Made in SODO Video
Story: Jillian Celich
SHINING A (NEON) LIGHT IN THE HEART OF SODO.
Seattleites know some of the best spots to eat, drink and visit in our city are Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Molly Moon’s Ice Cream and Cupcake Royale. But, what Seattleites might not know is that all these places have one thing in common – their iconic neon signs were all made in SODO by the company Western Neon.
Western Neon’s history starts in the 1950s when Dean Blazek, a pioneer in the neon industry, worked for a sign making company in the Midwest. From this experience, Blazek decided to write three books on neon sign making, known in the industry as the ‘bender’s bible.’ Blazek wanted to share his passion in the neon industry with others and opened a neon sign making school in Wisconsin in the 1970s. Blazek’s two sons, Michael and Jay became interested in the industry through their Dad’s school and after learning the trade, both relocated to Seattle to open a neon art gallery. The gallery evolved into what is now Western Neon. Eventually, Michael and Jay sold the company in 2012 to the current Owner and President, Andre Lucero.
Andre started at Western Neon in 2004 as an entry level employee, and worked his way up through the company. Under Andre’s leadership Western Neon has progressed into making public art, creating interior/exterior signage and training those in the industry. Seeing the void that exists in teaching young people the medium of neon sign making, Andre looked back at how Western Neon started and decided to open a neon sign making school. After enlisting the help of Dylan Neuwirth, Western Neon’s Creative Director, the school opened in January of 2018. The school started out with eight students, but now has grown to 50+ finishing the program, with a 500-person waiting list. Some graduates have gone on to be employees at Western Neon, while others have gone off and started their own glassbending companies. Andre and Dylan know that with having the school on site, they are able to teach others about the medium they are both so passionate about.
Along with the school, Western Neon has continued their commitment of making innovative quality products with excellent service. Currently, Western Neon is working on a signage project for the PCC Community Markets. The materials being used for the project are entirely locally sourced, with many of them coming from companies in SODO. By using locally sourced materials, Western Neon helped assure the project’s sustainability and environmental consciousness. For Western Neon, finding innovative ways to give back to their neighborhood and to the environment is what they are all about. Big or small, they are committed to giving the same level of service to every project and company that crosses their path.
For Western Neon, being in SODO helps them to think of new ways to continually improve their work. Seeing the cool, funky work that individuals are doing in SODO on both a micro and macro level inspires them, along with the resources that are available. They love being located in the industrial manufacturing district, and the mix of jobs that are located here. But what they love most is the gritty urban character that is SODO. This is why Western Neon is Made in SODO.
A special thanks to Seattle’s Office of Economic Development Only in Seattle Program for sponsoring a portion of the Made in SODO project.
With a focus on building up small businesses and strengthening our local economy, Seattle’s Office of Economic Development works to foster an economy where no matter who you are, who you love, or where you’re from, you can achieve your career and business goals right here in Seattle. OED’s Only in Seattle program supports SODO businesses by partnering with the SODO BIA to advocate for the neighborhood, build community capacity and fund neighborhood programs.