Iconic Okemos ‘shopping cart lady’ perched sign is glowing again

OKEMOS – They don’t make signs like the one perched above Playmakers’ parking lot on West Grand River Avenue anymore.

The 30-foot tall “shopping cart lady,” there since 1957, glows green when lit. Neon tubes powered by transformers inside the sign make it look as though the woman depicted is walking, her cart’s wheels turning with each step.

Iconic Okemos ‘shopping cart lady’ perched sign is glowing again

Replicating the icon today would be pricey, said Paul Vlahakis, and the finished creation would never make it past modern signage requirements thanks to its sheer size.

His company, JJV Properties, has been the shopping cart lady’s caretaker since it purchased the property in the 1980s, just after Schmidt’s Food Market closed its doors there.

The sign remained, Vlahakis said, because even then it was clear it was part of the community.

“It’s basically a landmark,” he said. “It’s been there for so long.”

Now, after six years of darkness, the shopping cart lady has been relit and nearly restored to full working order. A fire in the summer of 2015 caused a short in its transformers. 

Restoration after a fire

Vlahakis said a bird’s nest is believed to have started the fire inside the sign that June.

It was too close to the sign’s transformers, which get hot, he said.

A State News article about the "shopping cart lady" sign that's been perched above the building at 2299 West Grand River Ave. in Okemos, once home to Schmidt's Food Market and now to Playmakers, since the 1950s.

“The sign just started smoking and smoldering and it caused the neon transformers to short out,” Vlahakis said.

Signs made today are usually lit with LED lighting, he said, but his company has made an effort to maintain the neon tubes and transformers that have always powered the shopping cart lady sign.

 “It’s very rare that you find neon tubes being used or manufactured anymore,” Vlahakis said.

The building at 2299 West Grand River Ave. in Okemos was once home to Schmidt's Food Market. The company installed the "shopping cart lady" sign in 1957, said Andy Marsh, a manager at Playmakers.

But he said modernizing the sign wasn’t a consideration after the fire, so the components inside the sign needed to be replaced.

The final cost of the work isn’t clear yet, Vlahakis said, though he expects to spend “thousands of dollars.”

The work didn’t start until after the wiring located under the property’s parking lot was replaced.


Katheleen Knopf

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