The neon ‘Miracles on 34th Street’

Where Murray Hill meets Kips Bay, there is a corner where mid-century New York meets the present.

For starters, the Clover Delicatessen has been holding the fort on the southwestern corner of East 34th Street and Second Avenue since the late 1940s, and its neon sign is one of the finest you’ll see on any street corner. To be sure, it’s the most glorious neon sign left on all of 34th Street, river to river. [Well, with the possible exception of Macy’s.]

But walk next door, and your trip through storefront time continues. This liquor shop has an amazing neon sign in the window.

Notice the “LE” in the telephone number — short for "Lexington exchange" — happily preserved in neon.

That means this sign must date, at the very latest, to the early and middle 1970s, by which time the use of exchange names was being phased out. Today, the store would write “532-0980,” and probably not in neon!

Interestingly, a few people to this day hang on tenaciously to their exchange name. It certainly adds poetry to the common phone number.

You can join the club by figuring out what your exchange name might have been by Googling the words “telephone exchange names” and clicking on the first result.

And then start giving out your cell number in this archaic format: KLondike5-5555.

People might think you’ve had one too many, but you’ll know better.

Text and photos: Rolando Pujol 

A version of this post originally appeared in amNewYork’s Urbanite blog.