Helen Arnold closed her store, Helen’s Children’s Wear, on Hastings Street in Burnaby, in April this year.
Helen’s was a wonderfully old-fashioned store. Italian mamas shopped there for frilly, white confirmation dresses for their daughters. The mannequins were from another era—and those old-style child mannequins are strange and rather spooky things, with lacquered hair and painted faces. But the store’s crowning glory was the Helen’s neon sign, featuring a girl on a swing. Installed in 1956, the sign has been a landmark in the area ever since.
One day this past week, the sign was taken down and was lying forlornly upside-down on a truck before being removed to a warehouse. Locals and others interested in heritage issues hope that the City of Burnaby and Sicon Group, the sign’s owners, can reach an agreement that will see the sign restored and relocated close by in the Burnaby Heights shopping area. The plan is to replace the word “Helen’s” with “Heights,” but to use the same typography. It might work, although those who remember the plan to retain the Bowmac sign on West Broadway in Vancouver while covering it with a see-through “ToysR’Us” logo may be dubious. However, it’s worth a try. The Lower Mainland building boom has rendered many formerly unique neighbourhoods sterile and homogeneous, so I applaud those who try to save some of the idiosyncratic things that add character.
Footnote: Helen is married to Elgin Arnold, who owns the Oasis Car Wash.