MC Signs reopens in Ocean City

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Submitted / Mark Crego sits at the state-of-the art computer in his recently renovated Ocean City shop. Submitted / Mark Crego sits at the state-of-the art computer in his recently renovated Ocean City shop.

OCEAN CITY — After working in Somers Point for several years, Mark Crego came back to Ocean City, where he started, designing and crafting signs in 1980, only to be flooded out six months later by Hurricane Sandy.

Despite the huge setback – 40 inches of water delivered by Hurricane Sandy – Crego, whose storefront is finally back up and running, said he couldn’t be happier. In his newly renovated MC Signs shop at 231 West Ave., Crego said he’s doing what he set out to do 34 years ago: Blending the craftsmanship of yesterday with the technologies of tomorrow to communicate today’s message.

“Sandy was brutal,” Crego said. “We got through it, not easily, but we got through it.”

Crego, who works with his wife, Dona, suffered big losses during the strom: a $90,000 printer, a $70,000 router and two plodders were inoperable. But he didn’t lose his will or his sense of humor.

“They wanted $45,000 just to send the guy down for the printer, so I fixed it myself for $10,000,” he said.

Out of necessity, he learned how to repair and mitigate a lot of disasters. His sons, Kyle and Josh, and some friends assisted.

In 1992, 231 West Ave. took on 19 inches of water during a winter nor’easter, so Crego said he tried to prepare for the flooding from Sandy.

“We knew that, so we put everything 20 inches above,” he said. “We put things on tables at 30 inches, and we got 40 inches. The water wiped out Dona’s desk, her scanner and computer. Fortunately, we back everything up.”

For two months after Sandy, the Cregos worked on their dining room table, using laptop computers.

“We didn’t miss much. There were a few things we couldn’t do, but we got back on our feet,” he said. 

Crego started in business in the 700 block of West Avenue, behind Dailey Plumbing, then worked out of 341 West Ave. When he needed more space for his growing business, he headed to Somers Point.

He came back when the present location became available.

Crego’s career started in Wildwood in 1976 where he took sign painting lessons from Harry Lanza. He learned everything from the basics to doo wop style.

“Harry opened an art studio. I ended up being the only student, so I learned how to do a lot,” he said.

Crego then had an apprenticeship with J.T. Signs, who took over Lanza’s business.

From there he went to Atlantic City, where he joined a union, working at the Golden Nugget.

“As the casino’s started opening, they all needed signs,” he said.

Back in those days, Crego said, signs were hand-painted and he had been trained. Computers came along in 1983 and over the years have taken over the art of hand painting.

“That’s one of the biggest problems today. The younger guys don’t know how to hand-paint a sign,” he said. “I’m in the generation that knows how to do both.”

Crego said he was well prepared. From the time he was 12 to age 16, he worked at a hardware store and then at a factory.

“The younger guys know the computer, but they don’t know the nuts and bolts of the business, the mechanical, how to put things together,” he said. “There’s a lot more to signs up than the computer.”

Crego was born in Philadelphia and lived in Oswego, NY and Tampa, Fla. before returning to Philadelphia.

He met Dona in Wildwood.

“I was a short order cook, Dona was a waitress,” he said. “I went to Wildwood for the summer and never went home.”

The couple married and moved to Ocean City because, he said, it was “a nice, year-round community.”

Meanwhile, Crego was laid off from the casinos in 1979 and set up shop in Ocean City.

“I figured when I was laid off, we’d go to Florida,” he said. “Orlando was booming, going great guns. We were all set, but suddenly I started getting all these jobs.”

He became a leading sign painter for boardwalk amusements, including Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, Gillian’s Island, Playland’s Castaway Cove, Mariner’s Landing and Morey’s Pier.

“By word of mouth, in six months I was busy,” he said. “I had no business plan, and I ended up with a business just by people finding out about me. Most people plan, this just happened.

“I had $100 and a pick-up truck, and I had to borrow a ladder for my first job,” he said.

At that time, there were six sign companies in Atlantic and Cape May counties, today there are 46, he said.

“I’ve had to accommodate, make changes,” he said. “Back then, you had to create, be an artist. I was lucky. I was only 25 when I started in business. I was old enough to have learned from good people, master painters. I was young enough that when computers came out I could learn and, again, I learned from the best.”

Crego’s business is state of the art, he said. His new printer is one of just four in the country, allowing him to do just about anything with a wide variety of materials, he explained.

Sons Kyle and Josh are both in college, but they help out.

“They’ve been working with me since they were 4 years old,” he said. “They know their way around with hardware and tools. This has been a great business; with the flexibility we never missed a game or an event at school.”

Sandy dealt a big blow, but it was not fatal.

“We feel blessed, a lot of people were worse off,” he said. “It took a while, but we got it all back. I love being in Ocean City. If I never left the island again, that would be all right.”

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