How a Beer Sign Became a City’s Icon

When I recently visited Auburn, I couldn’t figure out why there was a giant Genesee Beer sign in downtown Auburn, NY. Not that I have anything against Genesee Beer as it used to be the beer of choice during the 60’s and 70’s when I was working in Endicott, NY. Today, most towns around the Finger Lakes limit the amount of outdoor advertising that a company can do.

My friend Michael Sargent who was born and raised in Auburn, NY sent me some information on the giant beer sign (click here) and also supplied me with a picture of what the sign looked like before it was updated last year.

The sign is located on top of a music store owned by the late Nicholas Speno Jr. and has been there for 60 years. The Genesee Brewing Co. in Rochester, NY paid Mr. Speno an annual rent of $1500 plus they sent him a case of Genny Cream Ale each month. However, three years ago, the Genesee Brewing Co. was ready to stop paying the rent on the sign. But Mr. Speno and his son Mike Speno lead a campaign to keep the sign. Not only did they convince the people of Auburn that the sign was an important landmark, they convinced the Genesee Brewing Co. to pay $60,000 for restoration of the sign and to upgrade the old neon lights which hadn’t been turned on in 40 years to modern low energy LED lights.

According to the newspaper article, the Genesee Beer sign has been good for the Speno family’s business, as one can not help but see the 85 foot high sign from anywhere in Auburn. And although Nicholas Speno Jr.’s son Mike Speno said that “he was not much of a beer drinker himself,” I’m thinking that if Nicholas Speno Jr. were still alive today, he would have had a case of Genesee Cream Ale delivered each month as part of the restoration deal!

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