Less than two weeks after Spokane artist Chris Bovey started a fundraiser to help with the cost of restoring the fallen Ming Wah sign, enough money has been raised to return the icon to its rightful place on West Third Avenue.
Kam Kwong, who has owned the restaurant since 1997, said he was always confident his customers would help him restore the sign, which fell in an April windstorm.
One of those longtime customers was Bovey, who created a print of the neon sign as one of the first designs on his vintage-style printmaking business.
Bovey set up a GoFundMe page complete with a video about the history of neon signs in the area. While Kwong was confident the fundraiser would work, Bovey was not.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I would see it go back up again,” Bovey said.
But the community’s response to Bovey and Kwong’s fundraising effort was swift. Bovey donated stickers and T-shirts as incentives for people to donate money. Aaron Draplin, a Portland-based graphic designer, helped amplify the cause, which Bovey said helped the fundraiser “grow legs and take off.”
“I think a lot of it is local, but he has a national following so it kind of spoke to a whole different audience then,” Bovey said.
Fellow sign enthusiast Chris Raley runs Route 9 Signs out of Fresno, California, and creates miniature versions of neon signs. He created a mini-Ming Wah sign and raffled it off, with entry fees going toward the GoFundMe.
With support from across the West Coast, it was just less than two weeks before they had raised $15,090.
“I’ve never done anything like this in my life, so I guess it was shocking to see how much the community would rally around it,” Bovey said. “We hit the goal for $15,000.”
Bovey called Kwong after the goal was met to tell him the good news.
“He was over the moon, he couldn’t believe it,” Bovey said with a chuckle. “I couldn’t wait to tell him.”
Kwong’s insurance said they would pay for about half of the cost to restore the sign. That left him to cover the rest, something he couldn’t manage after closing at the start of the pandemic. The goal was met on July 31, the day before Ming Wah re-opened for takeout.
“I opened on the first without the sign,” Kwong said.
Kwong used the prolonged closure to remodel the interior of the restaurant, including re-doing the booths and bathrooms. But people kept calling asking if he was open for takeout, so Kwong eventually gave in despite the ongoing renovations.
With worries of COVID-19 still on his mind, Kwong said he will offer only takeout for the foreseeable future.
“To me, I have to protect the people in the community, I have to protect my employees and customers,” Kwong said.
Kwong said he hopes to have the sign up as soon as it is restored but doesn’t know when that will be.
“I have no idea,” Kwong said. “I hope they don’t take that long.”
Bovey said he hopes the sign will be up “relatively soon.” The artist has plans in the works to do a pop-up event to welcome the sign home and bring together the community that made it possible.
Until then, Kwong is excited to be able to serve customers again and to thank them for their patience.
“Thank you for the community,” Kwong said. “Thank you all for being patient.”
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