A neon pink sign along Alaska's Seward Highway south of Anchorage will continue to invite visitors in for “T-shirts,” “panties” and “hardcore Alaskan gifts” for at least another two years.
After some maneuvering by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, Mary Lou Redmond's Diamond Jim's Liquor store sign will get a reprieve from state right-of-way agents trying to remove it to comply with federal highway regulations. According to Begich, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) will give the state two years to establish its own time frame to resolve the issue.
The state asked all businesses between highway miles 96-102 to move their signs at least 150 feet from the center line of the highway. Most businesses -- including the Brown Bear Saloon and Bird Ridge Motel -- complied. However, Redmond did not. She insisted that former Gov. Bill Egan approved the sign location after Diamond Jim’s Liquor moved from Portage following the 1964 earthquake.
Egan died in 1984. No one from the state disagreed that the former governor told Redmond she could keep it there. However, laws changed. Either clear the signs or return $20 million in federal funds.
Schawna Thoma, deputy state director for Begich, said the senator described the decision as a “stay of execution” for the sign.
Thoma said the FHA couldn't offer an exemption because doing so would create inequities between Alaska sign owners. Allowing an exemption could lead to a difficult, if not impossible, program for the state to manage, Thoma said.
Regardless, Redmond is getting the sign ready for a long future next to highway. She plans to add a fresh coat of paint to the pink and blue sign and will even replace a few burnt-out light bulbs.
Redmond feels for other businesses who had to remove their signs. She hopes the state legislature can do something to help other sign owners in the future.
“I'm so happy to keep the sign,” she said. “It means so much to everyone.”