Damaged liquor-store sign family history, not scrap

Posted: July 01, 2014

Dania Sargenc often joked that the neon sign above Benash Liquor Store, with its bold yellow lettering, rusty red background, and arrow pointing toward the door, would one day be hers.

The sign went up in 1948, when her uncle opened the store along Route 38 in Cherry Hill. Soon her father worked there, and even through ownership changes during the next 66 years, the sign remained.

Then, last week, it came crashing down.

What was one man's misfortune - accidentally toppling the sign with a red pickup truck - was Sargenc's chance to reclaim a part of her family's history.

Her father, Richard Benash, died of liver cancer five years ago. "It's a piece of him," Sargenc, 53, said of the sign. "It was his life business for so long."

Now the sign, which Sargenc's family members hauled into a pickup truck last week, is resting on the side of their garage in Cherry Hill. It is badly bent, and the neon lights are broke when it smashed to the pavement.

It was allegedly brought down June 20 by William A. Grasso, 21, an off-duty Camden County police officer. He is facing drunken-driving charges and has been taken off street duty.

"You couldn't save the sign," said Rich Brooks, 52, co-owner of Benash Liquors. "It was just banged-up."

It was also headed for scrap - until Sargenc and her family got involved.

The sign stirs nostalgia in Sargenc. She remembers her father's old business cards - she still keeps a box of them - and playing hide-and-seek with her sister behind the wine boxes in the back of the store.

Helen Benash, her 91-year-old aunt who helped open and run the store, estimates she and her husband spent less than $1,500 to buy the sign.

"It's a landmark now," she said. "Everybody says if they go by the Benash Liquor Store, you know you're on the right road."

Guiding them at night were the sign's neon lights, which released a red and green glow. The owners over the years kept the neon running, while also occasionally repainting the sign with the original colors.

Sargenc, meanwhile, wondered what it would be like to have the sign.

"It's funny," she said. "Every time I drove by I kind of thought it'd be really cool to have."

Now, with her wish granted, the question becomes what to do next.

Brooks, the owner, said he hopes to buy a sign with the same dimensions and colors, but with LED lighting.

As for the old sign, Sargenc said her daughter wants to put it on her basement wall. Sargenc's sister wants to hang the neon "B" from the sign in her kitchen.

Keeping the family name alive, piece by piece.


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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