We previously highlighted quirky but effective installations in alleys and streetscapes, as well as more defined public art programs. In this third and final installment, we’ll focus on ways that individual businesses can use whimsy to creatively market themselves while enhancing the entire district. This can be done through signage, merchandising, the use of the out-of-the-ordinary, or even the use of the ordinary in interesting new ways. This type of “funkiness” can work in historic districts as long as it does not detract from or destroy the overall historic character.

A perfect example of quirky but effective signage is Max’s Pizza in Atlanta, Georgia. The way they used planters for signage is out-of-the-box, but since they had the space to do so, it captures attention in a positive way.

Whimsical planters outside Max's Pizza in Atlanta, Georgia

The Toad House in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, took advantage of its steep side yard to create unforgettable signage that fits the character of the business.

Unique signage at Toad House in Ladysmith, Wis.

Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee uses these wild Larry, Moe and Curly characters at the entrance to the brewery.

Larry, Moe and Curly statues outside Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee

This cafe and bike shop in Cambridge, Wisconsin, creates a funky vibe with its eclectic outdoor seating and fun artwork.

Eclectic outdoor seating and fun artwork in Cambridge

It’s hard for a restaurant that serves donuts, chicken and beer to take itself too seriously. Mike’s Chicken & Donuts in Kenosha, Wisconsin, doesn’t shy away from being funky and fun, using murals and neon for signage.

Mike’s Chicken & Donuts in Kenosha, Wisconsin features murals and neon signage
Mike’s Chicken & Donuts in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Photo by Andy Newman Photography

Speaking of chickens, this restaurant in Milwaukee proves that lighthearted artwork can even be used for an upscale establishment.

An upscale Milwaukee restaurant with unique artwork

And speaking of animals, the State Street Brats patio in Madison is delightfully graced by cow statues, along with colorful flags and lighting.

State Street Brats in Madison feature cow statues and flags

When it comes to outdoor seating, Froggy Bottoms in Northfield, Minnesota, has a (frog) leg up on the competition, utilizing a unique multi-story outdoor space that clings to the side of the building above the river.

Froggy Bottoms in Northfield, Minnesota
Froggy Bottoms in Northfield, Minnesota overlooks the river
Froggy Bottoms in Northfield, Minnesota utilizes a multi-story space

The Red Wing Boots corporate offices in Red Wing, Minnesota, occupy a former retail building, meaning that several of the old storefront entrances are no longer in use. Instead of closing them off, which would have destroyed the historic integrity of the building, they used large sculptures of their boots in the entryways.

Red Wing Boots corporate offices in Red Wing, Minnesota
Statues stand in unused doorways at the Red Wing Boots corporate offices in Red Wing, Minnesota

And lastly, multiple businesses in Menomonie, Wisconsin, have done a great job of creating quirky but effective open signs and outdoor merchandising. Together, they create a feeling of vibrancy throughout the district.

Funky store signage in Menomonie, Wis.
Unique store signage in Menomonie, Wis.