As iconic North Vancouver signs go, it’s probably second only to the rotating Q.
For more than three decades, anyone travelling on Forbes Avenue past Second Street was guaranteed, at the very least, an amused smirk, if not a snicker through the nose or audible belly laugh when they read the one-liners Bob Gibson devised for the sign outside his business, Contact Printing.
The sign posted this week may cause some people to swerve:
I’M NOT RESIGNING
After more than 700 zingers, Gibson, 65, and Contact Printing co-owner Dave Brown have accepted an offer for their print shop to be taken over and converted to a Minuteman Press franchise.
“I just put the signs up thinking well, I’ve got to sign off somehow,” Gibson said, pun almost certainly intended. “I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Initially, the sign was just used to market the products they printed inside. Sometime in the late 1980s, it became “an outlet for some silliness,” Gibson said. The jokes were a hit locally and before long, it was something Gibson felt compelled to keep going.
Writing on the wall
Gibson keeps a big red folder, packed with ideas he’s jotted down. Some of them are his own, others he’ll be the first to admit he’s borrowed from somewhere else. Every month or so, he sets his ladder up outside and swaps in a new message, to the delight of those who pass by.
One of his personal favourites was the one put up during Vancouver’s famously balmy 2010 Winter Olympics.
OLYMPIC ATHLETES WELCOME. BRING YOUR OWN SNOW, it read.
Finding the right joke is one thing. Paring it down to just five lines with 13 letters apiece is what took some skill, Gibson said.
Once they were up, the signs tended take on a life of their own on social media.
A picture of the sign reading I WAS ADDICTED TO THE HOKEY POKEY BUT I TURNED MYSELF AROUND was shared by Snoop Dogg with his 20 million followers.
Gibson always made an effort to stay on the right side of the line, so there aren’t many he regrets (although he wishes he’d kept a better record of each sign posted). And not every joke lands the way we want it to. One woman with dyslexia came in off the street to let him know she was not thrilled with DYSLEXICS OF THE WORLD, UNTIE.
Other times, the sign was just over people’s heads, literally and figuratively.
SORRY, NO FRESH FISH TODAY seemed to just confuse people, Gibson said.
“I don't know. I thought it was funny,” he said.
The one time he broke tradition, it was to use the sign to post a message mourning his son who had been killed in a head-on crash in 2011.
GOODBYE MICHAEL, YOU WILL BE FOREVER MISSED, it read.
Sign of the times
Gibson said he’s been so focussed on the transition with the business, he’s not had a lot of time to think about how he’ll be spending his retirement.
Although he clearly enjoys making people laugh, you won’t be seeing him at any stand-up comedy open mic nights. He’s much more comfortable sprinkling puns and quips into social conversations, even though it’s sometimes an embarrassment for his wife.
“No big plans to travel. I like puttering and building things. Maybe I’ll learn the guitar. I don't know, what do people do when they retire?” he asked.
Long live the prints
As for whether the sign actually did drum up any sales leads for business cards or brochures, Gibson is doubtful. Its real value, he’s learned, has been in the shared experience for the people of North Vancouver. As word about his retirement has spread, Gibson has been deluged with well-wishes and people telling him just how much they’ll miss his clever messages.
“Up until this week, I knew people liked it, but I had no idea,” he said.
As for the future of the business, Gibson has every faith the new owner will provide the same friendly customer service, and almost all of the original staff are staying on. But, in any case, he’ll be handing over his red folder of jokes along with the keys to the building.
“I don't think they're going to have a choice. I think, from what I've gathered, they're going to try and keep it going,” he said. “I secretly hope that they're better at it than I was, because I think it is great for the community.”