I first noticed the sign at the start of the pandemic in March. I was used to driving past the tire store at Carling and Woodroffe and seeing the sign advertise specials on things you might expect. Winter tires. Balancing. Rims. That kind of thing. But one day I noticed that it had a funny message on it: “So what day is it anyway.” Then another day, it said “Is this the real life” and when you drove past the other side it read “Is this just fantasy.”
The store didn’t look like it was being used as a tire store anymore. I imagined that perhaps the previous owner had given up on the tire biz and was now living among the old tires in the back but changing the sign every so often, just to keep me entertained.
Over the next few months, the sign kept changing every couple of weeks. Sometimes it was pandemic-related. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes very mysterious. I stopped a couple of times and got a pic of it and posted it on my Instagram.
Then a couple of weeks ago, the whole sign started to change. At first they removed the Bridgestone/Firestone pieces off the top and the sign below was changed to “OMG I’m topless.”
Days later, the sign sported a bright yellow banana and the letters were changed to indicate the real owners: Loen Design.
I contacted owner Rich Loen and arranged a tour and a chat in his new space. Rich founded the high tech company InGenius and a year ago sold it and started doing design and art full-time. He acquired the former tire shop on Carling Avenue around that time, and has spent a lot of time since then converting it into a large workshop and gallery space. I asked Rich about how he started putting up messages on the sign:
Rich Loen: When we moved in here, it was a garage still and it had lifts and everything, and it had the old sign with the Firestone and the GCR tire centre pieces. But we had this section at the bottom where we could put our own messages, and they left behind the box of letters to go in there. Being on Carling, it’s just such an opportunity to have fun. And that’s the kind of the thing we’re interested in. We have a big, big list of things to put up there and we just sort of go through the list and then we also try to keep it topical and weird and mysterious. So there’s a lot of messages we put up there that most people would have no clue about.
Apt613: So generally, what is going on in this space?
RL: I like to create art pieces that have a techie side to them. And I like making machines that are under computer control. I spent years as a programmer. So you make a program and you put it somewhere and it just does something. But writing some code and then hitting go, and then having a machine go and do something, it’s pretty cool. I want to create bigger things as well. I want to create weird, interesting, strange things, and just put them out in front of the building. But I have like a long, long list of projects I’d like to work on. And with us being on Carling, it’s fantastic. I want people to be driving by and look forward to seeing what’s out there.
Rich gave me a tour of their space. In the garage area where the car bays used to be, there are specialized woodworking and metalworking machines. And while they did remove most of the car lifts to free up space, they kept one lift for doing their own oil changes. It’s also useful if they need to lift a large piece of material.
In the area downstairs that used to be customer seating, they have a big, beautiful gallery space with a kitchen in the back. Rich showed me a couple of the large pieces of art he’s done and a chain-drive clock that he is building.
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Once we’re done with this pandemic, I’m looking forward to a gallery opening and seeing more of his work. In the meantime, I’ll just have to be satisfied with keeping a close eye on the sign.
Apart from a good website, Loen Design has a nice set of YouTube videos that explain what they’ve been up to.