Sputnik gets new spunk!

From blinkety-blink to color flow, Sputnik lights up the front page of the Hibbing Daily Tribune on Sunday, December 4, 2011.

Article taken from Hibbing Daily Tribune, written by Kelly Grinsteinner.

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It's the season of lights. And many homes and business offices are adding illuminations to celebrate the season.

However, one local business has put a long-desired glow back into its iconic symbol for more than just the holiday season.

"This one is permanent," Laurio Brown said. "Yup, we're talking all year long."

Owners of 1st Realty Rangewide have breathed new life into "Sputnik" - the lighted portion of their office sign located at 2832 First Ave.

Sputnik was a main street fixture signaling people to Jim Dandy's, which many recall as the best burger place in town. The joint was in its heyday in the late 1960s and early '70s, according to Brown and business partners Joan Cotton and Ron Lockhart.

The property has since changed hands several times, and had other uses. During that time, Sputnik remained dark.

The trio has been in the building since December 2008.

"It's nostalgia and part of the reason we bought this building," Cotton said. "There's nothing like this anywhere else in Hibbing. It's an era thing."

When they moved in, Cotton called on her husband, Chris, to assist in bringing Sputnik back to life. He proceeded to fix the lights and the switch was flipped.

Sputnik was blinkety-blinking in all its former glory.

"We were tickled pink," Cotton said. "We started getting lots of feedback from people. They noticed it, and said 'that's so cool.' It also tells people that there's a new business here."

But the flashback was short-lived. City zoning officials stepped in, telling them they must cease the flashing mode of Sputnik because of a city ordinance which prohibits flashing signs.

According to city code section 11.57 Subdivision 5A of 343 second series, signs which flash or consist of lights that revolve or flash are prohibited with the exception that on-site motion, but not flashing, signs are attached to the primary building, such as on movie theaters.

The trio was disappointed and surprised by the order to discontinue Sputnik's operation. They felt it should be "grandfathered in" and allowed due to its historic significance, but no luck.

"It's been here for years, and helped make this place attractive," Brown said. "We want people to enjoy it and know we're open to the public."

Cotton added, "It's a part of this community's history and part of the tradition of this street. It's what people remember."

But the only option was to seek a text amendment to the current city code -  a costly venture with no guarantee that allowing Sputnik to blink would be allowed.

Brown cited that a request for blinking lights by the local movie theater wasn't OK'd in the past, so they didn't see much hope in pursuing the text amendment.

He also questioned why the city is so concerned about blinking lights.

"It may give us character to stand out in the crowd," he said. "Every city is competing for that next business out there, and my feeling after having owned and operated three different businesses in this town is that we need to go that extra mile to accommodate and be on the forefront in attracting more businesses to Hibbing."

But they complied.

Sputnik stayed dark - until now.

Thanks to new technologies, Sputnik is outfitted and once again aglow with dome-shaped, energy efficient LED lights that don't blink but rather "flow" from red to green to blue.

Brown said that he and Chris Cotton had to change some of the globe's mechanisms to enable the LED lights to stay on at all times rather than flash off and on.

"In a way, it was like taking away 50 years of its history," said Brown of the alternative lights. "But more importantly we feel its such an important part of the history here."

Sputnik has been lit since about mid-November, and since then has generated quite a buzz. Brown said they have a lot of people noticing and giving feedback.

"They're happy to see that it's working, that it's back on and that we found a way to make it change," he said. "People remember it from its heyday. They say they'd prefer it to blink, but we found the best solution we could."

He said it's stirring memories for many, and giving the trio a new way to stand out.

"We are glad that it's noticeable, and that people are realizing the history behind it," he said. "We have to be a little different or a little better than our neighbors in order to bring in more retail, restaurant and hotel businesses. So we at 1st Realty Rangewide are doing our part. Sputnik lives on."

Article taken from Hibbing Daily Tribune, written by Kelly Grinsteinner.