Joe's Liquor Store and the Roto-Sphere

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Joe's Liquor Store in Midtown is just down the road from me and boasts one of Memphis' most fun and distinctive signs. Referred to by most residents as the 'Sputnik', the sixteen, eight foot long colored arms physically rotate in three directions and has been synonymous with the business since it was established in 1962.

Now as it turns out, there is more history to this than one would assume - these sputnik style signs are actually known as 'Roto-Spheres' and the one outside of Joe's Liquor Store is one of only around 17 left in the world with less than 10 of these still fully operational.

Designed by a guy called Warren Milks, around 234 of these signs were created between 1960 and 1971. The 1962 newspaper advertisement referring to the store's Grand Opening featured a photo of its Roto-Sphere with the caption "At the Sign of the Sputnik". By the mid 70's however, the sign had fallen into serious disrepair.

In 1999, Joe's Liquor Store's new owners decided to have their sign restored. They were able to raise the full $12,000 needed through a fundraising event. This "Sputnik Relaunch Party" drew about 450 people from the community and featured live bands, a silent auction, and a fireworks display. The restoration took three months. Since then, Sputnik's motor has been replaced three or four times and it is now completely electric. Although the neon is extra-strength, about two tubes break each year and require replacement.

For more information and pictures of some of the later 'Roto-Sphere designs, take a look HERE.

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Well done.

susan williams said...

My family neighborhood on Willett..that sign is home to me❤️

Memphis Jones said...

The fundraiser was called Satellite Of Love after a Lou Reed song. Three local power-pop bands performed (at Neil's on Madison/McLean):
Crash Into June, the Moves, and Kitchens & Bathrooms.