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Neon Renaissance: Social Media Shining New Light On Decades-Old Art Form

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The art of neon lights is still alive and well.

You can call them glowing, luminous or even blazing, but you can't call them in danger.

As CBSN New York's John Dias reports, neon lights are far from flickering out.

"I love neon lights. I see them everywhere," said Te-Asia Ivey, of Downtown Brooklyn.

"I actually enjoy them a lot. They are very trendy right now, but they make a beautiful photo," Jordan Mauldin, of Propsect Park, said.

The art of neon lights is still alive and well. (CBSN New York)

From Radio City Musical Hall to the deli down any New York street, neon lights are still as hot as can be and helping out businesses. According to a recent FedEx study, about 68 percent of consumers have purchased a product or service because a sign caught their eye.

"People are appreciating what we do, because it's a handmade item, it's a craft," said Jeff Friedman, who owns Let There Be Neon.

Friedman's neon shop in Downtown Manhattan has been lighting up the country since the 1970s.

"Of course, neon was associated with bars and grittiness and the American highway and the American landscape," he said.

Now he says a new age and new medium are giving a new appreciation for the art.

"I think that there is a great re-appreciation for all things handmade in a digital world," he said.

The art of neon lights is still alive and well. (CBSN New York)

Millennials and younger generations are taking to social media, like Instagram, to snap photos of neon signs, and their posts are being shared all over the place.

Friedman believes it gives these people a sense of nostalgia.

"I think that neon is truly genuine. It comes across," he said. "I think it's obvious that it's made by hand, and people are drawn to that attraction."

He said every neon sign you see is handmade. There is no machine that can make such creative, one-of-a-kind designs since it requires extensive manual work.

"The raw material is just glass tubing with different colors of different phosphorus," he said.

Each section has to be heated and hand bent, sometimes taking hours to produce just one part of a sign. The ribbon burners they use to mole glass tubes can get as hot as 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit.

"When it comes out of the fires, it begins to cool, so of course the glass begins to harden. So they only have a very limited time for the section that they're working in," said Friedman.

The art of neon lights is still alive and well. (CBSN New York)

Over the years, Friedman's team has worked with every venue and business imaginable. Most recently, the crew created a massive sign for a Coach installation.

The restaurant chain Dos Toros has commissioned the team to make neon bulls in their 20 plus locations.

"The kind of light they cast is super unique and really eye catching, and I think there is a warmth to the neon where it feels kind of modern but also very warm and inviting," Dos Toros Co-Founder Oliver Kremer said.

At WeWork, nearly 1,000 neon signs are hung up in their 425 different locations. Neon is even incorporated into some seating areas.

"It's become a really important, recognizable part of our visual language in our spaces," said Joe Geis, WeWork's global head of art and graphics. "See it from a different perspective. Something you would normally see in a laundromat or bodega, now you can see in your office space."

Geis works with his team to design the signs. Then, Friedman's crew puts it all together for their domestic offices.

"It's just become this weird medium that is really popular right now, and I think there is an energy to it," Geis said. "It's physical energy, it's creating a vibrance and soul for the space."

Soul for any space – in the past, present and, certainly, future.

"The truth is, we have never been busier. It's unbelievable after almost 47 years in the business that the growth continues," said Friedman.

These lights just keep on getting brighter.

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