A New Sign, and a Liquor Store Becomes a Wine Shop

The sign is now of the times.

A new liquor shop on Lenox Avenue in Harlem that was at the center of a gentrifying neighborhood’s dispute about storefront aesthetics has replaced its old sign with one more suitable to the sedate vision the enclave has of itself.

The shop’s owner has also removed the bulletproof plexiglass barriers in the store’s interior and replaced the roll-down solid steel gate with an open web security screen. Both earlier measures had been designed to forestall armed thieves, but the neighborhood has seen sharp declines in crime since the 1990s. Residents who were once mortified by the store’s ambience now feel the owner is trying to cooperate.

“I even hear there are some good bottles of wine there,” said Ruthann Richert, treasurer of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, which led the opposition to the store’s signage. Ms. Richert bought three bottles of chardonnay on Tuesday night and said she was talking to the owner, Berihu Mesfin, about coming up with a catchy name for the store, one suited to the neighborhood’s personality.

In November, members of the association protested the bright red and yellow signs that were going up at the liquor store, at 183 Lenox Avenue, near 119th Street. They described the sign as garish and said it was reminiscent of the days when their historic district of Gilded Age town houses was going to seed and riddled with crime. The Mount Morris Park enclave, they said, had become a more decorous area where brownstones were fetching $3 million and where celebrities like the poet Maya Angelou and the filmmaker Albert Maysles had chosen to live.

The association succeeded in getting construction work stopped on the store, and after that action and news coverage of the dispute, Mr. Mesfin decided to cooperate, seeking residents’ advice on what sign would be appropriate. He even sent 125 small bottles of Champagne for the association to use for gift bags at a holiday dinner on Dec. 8.

Mr. Mesfin opened the store in recent days, and it now has a red awning with the words Wine and Spirits inscribed sedately on the awning’s front flap in blue and white capital letters. Mr. Mesfin said in an interview that he had recycled the awning that had been put up by the previous occupant of the space, a beauty salon, and changed the fabric. Nevertheless, he estimated that the new sign cost him $1,000 beyond the $3,500 he spent on the red and yellow signage that he took down. He also said he spent several thousand dollars removing the security gate and plexiglass barriers.

Leah Abraham, an owner of Settepani, a restaurant further north on Lenox, said she had had a couple of conversations with Mr. Mesfin and put him in touch with a sign company. She also made recommendations about what he should do to spruce up the interior.

“He was willing to make changes,” she said.

Laurent Delly, the association’s vice president, said he was pleased with the changes.

“We can live with that,” he said.

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