Sign company partners for 34 years call it a day

April 27, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The remains of old signs are everywhere, advertising model homes, future home sites, sales inducements. They warn readers to beware of something, thank them for not smoking, point them in the right direction.

Chesapeake Sign Co., which did mostly real estate promotional work, survived the ups and downs of the housing market with Ryland Homes as its mainstay since 1971. But it could not survive one partner's decision to retire.

"I've been doing this for 47 years," said Warren Adams, 72. "I have a 30-foot motor home in the driveway just waiting to head west."

But his soon-to-be former partner, Howard Lohorn, 65, isn't ready to retire, and the two couldn't agree on how Mr. Lohorn would buy out Mr. Adams. So they are breaking up the business.

"It's a very difficult and painful thing to shut down a business," Mr. Lohorn said.

They hope to clear out by the end of the week from the Roesler Road building they have been renting for most of the 34 years they have been in business together.

Already, they've sold their computers and printing equipment. Trucks and advertising memorabilia remain. The men are offering their frames, display stands and other small items to schools and nonprofit community groups, and a few have taken the business up on the offer.

But the Lohorns were not about to let what has become nearly a half-million-dollar-a-year business vanish like last Sunday's real estate signs.

They opened the Glen Burnie SignWorks around the corner with Kenneth Lohorn, 39, as president and his father, who trained him, as a part-time sales consultant.

The new firm probably will stick to the lettered signs and poster board maps Chesapeake had made its niche. Kenneth Lohorn said he wants to enlarge the client base through the many contacts he made during the 15 years he had a construction company, a business he gave up last year.

Ryland is sticking with the Lohorns, said Michael Conley, manager of sales and marketing for Howard and Carroll counties and nearby areas. The company has come to depend on Howard Lohorn, who helped develop standard signs. Most of Ryland's familiar green and white signs in the Baltimore area were Chesapeake's work.

Mr. Adams and Mr. Lohorn met in the late 1940s in the Little Tavern in Highlandtown, back in the days when all signs were hand-lettered and screened.

Mr. Adams, who had quit the Maryland Institute College of Art because he and his wife were expecting a child, used to make a daily stop at Little Tavern for coffee on his way to work at a sign company.

And every day, Mr. Lohorn, who had been painting signs since he was a child in Tennessee, would take a break from the grill and chat with him.

By 1951, Mr. Lohorn had a promising career as a Little Tavern manager. He gave that up to start the Lohorn Sign Co., his own business in Glen Burnie.

He worked in a garage in the 500 block of North Crain Highway behind the Clauss food market. In 1954, Mr. Adams started working for him nights and weekends. And six years later, the employee became a partner and business became the Chesapeake Sign Co.

But, Mr. Lohorn said, over the years he tired of doing so much traveling, and is looking forward to a semi-retirement without that. Mr. Adams, who has been threatening to retire for the last few years, says he will confine his painting to landscapes and the like that he can hang on his wall.

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