50 Years of Service

Adapted from The Madison Courier
Saturday, December 2, 2006

Heitz Signs began in the 1950s as a small business run by Bernard Heitz, right, who started making signs in a shop at his home. His son, Patrick Heitz, now runs the company, which has been able to advance and grow to include many types of signs and high-tech equipment for installation. (Staff photo by Julie Kish)

By David Frank - Courier Staff Writer

The drone of a monogram machine slurping and pecking through a stack of duffel bags easily overpowers the level voice of the man in the next room. "M-A-D-I-S-O-N G-Y-M-N-A-S-T-I-C-S W-O-R-L-D," the machine stitches into a bag.

"I don't think it will be a problem," the man says into a phone.

Yet the man, Patrick Heitz of Heitz Sign Co., doesn't seem to notice the noise leaving an adjoining room cramped by stacks of varsity T-shirts and spools of slick thread. Negotiating with one of his own, he walks out of an office past a door tacked with three signs from customers at Red Pepper Catering and into a lobby where a clean letter jacket sits with an order slipped under the collar.

Heitz wishes that caller luck and claps his cell phone shut.

The person on the other end, who is also used to the sounds of the company machines, was an employee asking about the mechanics of a sign at a Chrysler dealership.

It would be all right, the owner knew, and he moved to the rear of the family shop on Industrial Drive.

Both the history of the company and Pat Heitz's business sense are part of the reason the store was one of the three in the city that earned a Half Century Business Award from Gov. Mitch Daniels in November.

Business like these, Daniels said in a press release, "provide the stability and long-standing community involvement that typify our traditional Hoosier values."

The Heitz family was active with the business long before Patrick took over in 1988.

"It's an old business," he said.

After neon and physics sparked his interest in the early '50s, Bernard Heitz, Patrick's father, started working on signs in a shop behind his garage, and soon he was hiring part-time workers to help him design and build neon plastic signs. At that time, even a successful sign business was a manual sign business.

"If you didn't make it, you didn't have it," Bernard Heitz said.

Soon, what started as a hobby for Bernard Heitz grew into an operation too big for the shop behind his garage. He was even asked to build two signs for the locally filmed 1958 movie "Some Came Running."

"The business just kept coming on and we just kept up with it," Bernard Heitz said. "It's like when people used to ask my wife, 'Did you plan on having six kids?' and she would say, 'Well, they just kept coming on and we just kept up with it.'"

Patrick Heitz, Bernard's oldest son, has since expanded the scope of their business to billboards, vinyl lettering, real estate signs, corporate pylon signs, parking lot lighting, digital graphics and LED message centers.

"He's really made it grow," Bernard said. "He's done a lot differently."

"Yes, Patrick added. "But I've done a lot the same, too."

Additional Media:
'Buying the Big Rigs'
Sign Builder Illustrated - September/October 1999

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