SILVERDALE — Drive along Silverdale Way and you can’t miss them: smiling people, some of them in costume, waving arrow signs promoting local businesses.
Sometimes they make you smile and honk as you drive by, maybe even turn into the local business they’re advertising. But you probably never asked yourself who they are, where they come from, and how they learned to do some of the tricks they do.
First, you should know that there are two skill levels at play here: wavers and spinners. Wavers, well, they wave at you and hold the sign. The folks in the Statue of Liberty costumes are wavers. Sign spinners are athletes — dancers who can spin and flip and do amazing things with the signs for hours on end, regardless of wind or weather. These people are artists who compete nationally and meet weekly to hone their craft.
Bill the sign spinner
William Aliki is Samoan and has been in the U.S. for almost three years. “I want to stay and make some money to help out my mom, little sisters and brothers [back on the islands],” he said. “I’m the only one out here.”
Aliki works for AArrow Sign Spinners in Seattle, whose web page proudly boasts that some of its employees won the 2017 World Sign Spinning Championships. He found the job on Craigslist and has only been working for AArrow for four months, but his goal is to make the championships and the prize money. Besides spinning signs for as much as 32 hours a week, he joins other sign spinners from 3-6 p.m. every Wednesday at Silverdale Waterfront Park to practice.
Many days, you can catch his performance on Silverdale Way as he spins his arrow for Fillabong, a cannabis store at 2839 NW Kitsap Place. The business is tucked away off the street, and assistant manager Crystal Eicher gives sign spinners a lot of credit for the store’s success.
“It definitely helps the business,” she said. “We’re in an obscure location. People come in here all of the time because of the sign spinner.”
It’s a tough job sometimes, Aliki said. “Especially when it’s hot and the sun’s out and you’ve got on four layers of clothes because you thought it was going to rain. But it’s a good job,” he said. He said he makes minimum wage and has health insurance. “I’m starting on the bottom and working my way up.”
Larry the sign waver
Down the street in front of Liberty Tax Service, 9857 Silverdale Way, you might say sign waver Larry Stigall is working his way back into society.
For as long as anyone can remember, the company has hired mostly work-release men and women through the state Department of Corrections to dress up as the Statue of Liberty and wave their “Honk if you love Liberty” signs from Jan. 1 to April 15, according to Cheryl Stevens, general manager of Liberty Tax Service’s five Kitsap County offices. The tax service’s current contract is with a private firm, Peninsula Work Release in Port Orchard. Through that company, Stigall is paid minimum wage and has health insurance.
Stigall lives in Peninsula’s halfway house in Port Orchard and he said the hardest part of the job is enduring the two-and-one-half-hour bus ride each way, just to do his three-hour shift at Liberty in Silverdale. But he is quick to praise the people at Liberty Tax.
“They’re good folks to work for,” he said.
Michelle Husted, manager of the Silverdale office, said, “People call us and ask us about our wavers when the weather’s bad. We provide rain gear to wear under the costume as well as hand and toe warmers. When it’s cold, we have [the sign wavers] take extra breaks and come inside where we have hot soup and drinks ready for them.”
Like Fillabong, Husted said the signs really work.
“Absolutely,” she said. “[Seeing] the sign wavers tells people we’re open and we’re here. We ask all of our new clients how they heard of us and a good 50 percent say the wavers. Yeah, they work. Very well.”
So what are some of the secrets of good sign waving and spinning?
Earbuds, an iPod and a good mix tape are a must. Aliki performs to reggae. Stigall prefers classic rock.
“You gotta smile, wave, dance and all that stuff,” Aliki said. “You got to keep moving. Most of all, when you’re spinning, you’ve got to stop so people can read your sign.
“Oh, and make sure the arrow is always pointing at the business.”