Green letters painted onto the side of the building at 530 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg advertise that Ermatinger hat shop is inside.Except, it’s not. That is home to Central Coffee Shoppe.A white-on-black neon sign affixed to the red brick structure at 502 E Harrison St. in Tampa promotes it as the location of St. Paul AME Church.Except, it’s not. The church moved in 2010 and today that building is part of Metro 510 apartments.“Telephone” is carved into the side of the second-story exterior of Clearwater’s 534 Cleveland Street to let passers-by known a telephone company is there.Except, it’s not. That building hosts office space.Signs that promote long-gone businesses adorn buildings all over the Tampa Bay area.Some say such signs help tell the area’s history. Others see them as art.“So many great signs have been lost,” said John Cinchett, author of Vintage Tampa Signs and Scenes . “So, regardless why someone likes them, enjoy those we have left.”Cinchett prefers the aged neons but admits the most popular type of old signs are those known as “ghost signs,” defined as fading, hand-painted advertisements on a building promoting a business or organization that is no longer there.There is one with a 14-spoke wagon wheel promoting Tampa Harness & Wagon Company at 1007-1009 Franklin St. in Tampa, for instance, and another with white lettering publicizing the Tampa Morning Tribune and its “Railroad, Steamboat and commercial press” at 514 Tampa St.“That sign is not going anywhere,” said Abby Dohring Ahern, whose Dohring Group Commercial Real Estate Brokerage Firm owns the Tampa Street building. “We are dedicated to keeping the history of the building alive. Because of it, people know there was once a newspaper called the Tampa Morning Tribune . It tells the city’s story.”Historic preservationist Del Acosta agrees with Dohring’s sentiment, but his love of ghost signs is more due to their artistic value.“They are an original work of public art faded, even something like an old Coca-Cola sign,” Acosta said. “A lot of early sign painters were trained as artists too. Andy Warhol, he started painting signs. And the ones left from that past era are now part of our street scape.”In 2017, muralist Tony Krol curated an art show for modern sign makers.Those featured, he said, marvel at the technical expertise of the ghost signs from an era when an artist’s only tools were paints and brushes.“They are almost perfect in every way — from the way they were leveled on buildings to the way they were designed,” Krol said. “Sign painting is as much a trade as an art. It is this sort of secret society passed on from generation to generation.”Neons emerged in the 1920s, said Cinchett, whose grandfather, Frank Cinchett, “was one of the first men in the country to establish a neon sign company.”Called Cinchett Neon Signs, his grandfather moved from Philadelphia to Tampa in 1948 on the advice of a friend and fellow neon sign maker.“There was tremendous need for more people who could make neon signs,” Cinchett said. “All the businesses wanted one and my grandfather’s friend couldn’t keep up with the demand in Tampa on his own.”Tampa’s iconic Hub Bar’s neon sign still works and is among those his grandfather created.Cinchett has other local favorites, like the vertical neon red for the McCrory’s five-and-dime at 429 Central Ave. in St Petersburg. The building now houses restaurants and stores.“That one is a classic,” Cinchett said. “It takes a skilled craftsman working with metal and steel, but you also have to be an artist.”Still, he appreciates all types of signs.“The carvings recessed into brick work are some of the original types, usually naming the family that originally owned the building,” Cinchett said.One example: the now-vacant building at 2113 W Main St. in West Tampa that was erected in 1920 by the Simovitz family as a general store.And then there are the sidewalk signs, either painted or made of tile, like the painted one for Marilyn Shoes outside of 800 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa, once a popular shopping destination.Some are finding ways to repurpose classics.Ferg’s Sports Bar at 1320 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg purchased the iconic spinning neon globe once affixed to World Liquors a few blocks away. Ferg’s incorporated it into their sign.When artist John Vitale was asked to paint a mural on the side of the Blue Goose at 48 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N in St. Petersburg, he wanted to do so without destroying the half of a Coca-Cola ghost sign still there.So he recreated the other half of that sign and included it in his War of the Worlds -like mural depicting the old St. Pete Pier turning into an alien robot that attacks the city.“Old meets new,” Vitale said. “I appreciate the classics. I think that is the allure of those old signs. They’re like a gift passed on to us from past generations. We need to keep as many around as possible.” The stories behind some of the Tampa Bay area’s old signs based on news archives Ermatinger hat shop: The hat shop advertisement on the side of Central Coffee Shoppe at 530 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg is one of three defunct businesses on that ghost sign, with the others being Hayward’s Toy Shop and Wisteria Confectionary. The earliest newspaper advertisement for Ermatinger at that location dates to 1934 and declares they specialize in Panama hats, though stories say it was established in St. Petersburg in 1910. The toy shop’s print advertisements date back to 1922. “Toys and gifts for mother, father, sister, brother, grandma, grandpa, uncle, aunty, baby, best girl, husband, wife, friend,” it reads. The Tampa Bay Times could not find information on Wisteria Confectionary. Tampa Harness & Wagon Compan y: The business was established in 1895 in what is now the unused 1007-1009 Franklin Street in Tampa. Print advertisements indicate they changed with the times and moved from wagons to early automobiles like Flanders and Studebaker cars, plus bicycles. Fourth of July Cafe: The beloved West Tampa staple that slung Cuban cuisine for a century closed in 2017, but its advertisements remain on the building at 1611 N. Howard Ave. There is a banner for the cafe hung on the side the building and under it a ghost sign with the promise of making “The Best Cuban Coffee In Town.” It had four locations over the years. The original was at 1610 N. Howard Ave. It moved to 1704 N. Howard Ave., then to 2146 W. Main Street and finally to 1611 N. Howard Ave. that today is home to Catrinas Tacos and Tequila Bar. The Peninsular Telephone Company Building: The building at 534 Cleveland St. in Clearwater was erected in the early 1900s by Robert H. Padgett, a British immigrant who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. He settled in Clearwater in 1895 and served as mayor from 1904-1905, buying land throughout the city. The Peninsular Telephone Company used the Cleveland Street building’s second floor in the early 1900s. Today, still an office building, the only reminder of that era is the word “telephone” still inscribed on the exterior of the second story. Florida Brewing Co.: At six stories and 50,000 square feet, the building at at 1234 E. Fifth Ave. is the largest and tallest building in Ybor City. Now home to the Swope Rodante law firm, it was built in 1886 for the Florida Brewing Co. The brewery supplied Tampa with beer and shipped more of it to Cuba than any other American brewery. In the 1960s, the opening of a local Anheuser-Busch plant and the Cuban embargo led to the brewery’s death. The brewing company’s name still adorns the exterior in fading white painted lettering.