Sign of the times on Nanchang Road

Committee hopes to stop spread of dull and ugly standardized shopfronts with a guideline which will ensure safety while allowing individual expression.  

A plan to retain the diverse commercial atmosphere of shop signs on Nanchang Road while ensuring safety and the street’s ambience is underway.

The 1.7-kilometer road stretches across the boundary between Xuhui and Huangpu districts. A guideline is being drawn up by a committee called the Nanchang Road Crossover Council comprising professors, officials, lawyers and business owners.

Professor Zhu Weijue from Tongji University, who leads the committee and grew up on the street, said she had complex sentiments about the issue.

The layout of the street has hardly changed over the last century. 

What is now called Nanchang Road was once Route Dollfus and Route Vallon. 

Chen Duxiu, one of the founders of the Communist Party of China, and writer Guo Moruo used to live on the street.

“A signboard reflects the character of a shop, standardizing signboards would kill the soul of the shops,” said Zhu. 

“But it doesn’t mean people can do whatever they like with their signboards.” 

The street is in the Hengfu (Hengshan and Fuxing roads) Historical Conservation Zone.

The committee, which has held seminars seeking opinions from shop owners, said the most important factor to consider is safety. The size of the signboards will be kept within a certain range but exact sizes are still being discussed.

The committee also said the signboards should not use gaudy colors or dazzling lights because many of the local residents are elderly. 

An official from Ruijin No. 2 Road Subdistrict, which in charge of the management of Nanchang Road, said it would need more time to discuss the details of the guideline.

“For now, we won’t demand the shops make any change to their signboards,” said the official.

Sign of the times on Nanchang Road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

The signboard on the Hujiang Barbershop on Nanchang Road.

After the guideline is released, the subdistrict will help organize the installation and renovation of signboards.

According to Zhu, 95 percent of some 500 shops on the street will meet the guideline.

“The street is beautiful the way it is now,” said Zhu. “Still, we can offer better management to put a cherry on top.”

Chen Guoliang moved his Hujiang Barbershop from Huaihai Road to Nanchang Road in 2001. Chen’s barbershop has a carved gray stone signboard with red characters.

“The signboard was renovated in 2010 for the World Expo,” Chen said. “Since then we have not made any changes.” 

Chen said he checked the safety of the signboard from time to time, but since the main structure is part of the original building, no potential risk has been found.

Sign of the times on Nanchang Road
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A pedestrian walks past the Dexing Shoe Repair store on Nanchang Road.

Next door to the barbershop is Dexing Shoe Repair, which has a wooden signboard.

Cobbler Wang said the signboard was there when his master opened the store 20 years ago.

Both Wang and Chen think it is a good idea to have a signboards guideline.

“An old Chinese saying goes, ‘nothing can be accomplished without norms or standards’,” said Chen. “But rigid uniformity is not what a wise decision-maker would do.”

Last year, some of the shops at the junction of Nanchang and Ruijin roads went through renovation which unified the shopfronts on Ruijin No. 2 Road as well as some on Nanchang Road.

The local authority said it was part of a facelift campaign for the first China International Import Expo.

The unified signboards are in plain black. Shop owners tried to improvise a little by using different-colored characters.

Mu Xinna, the owner of clothing shop Sparklet, was one of the shops involved.

She said she had designed the previous signboard herself. 

“I was distraught when it got torn down and replaced by the one hanging out there now,” said Mu. 

“I hope the guideline can be released soon so that my shop can regain its charm.”

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