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Signs point to a tight political campaign

Anne Knowles

Curious if the upcoming local election will be close? Talk to Dave Staley.He says he’s no authority on politics, but he knows a tight race when he sees one and this year’s election has a few.

How does he know? Because business is booming.

Staley is manager of Outdoor Plus Digital Photo Labs in Reno, which for nearly 40 years has been making political signs and billboards for local and nationwide candidates.

“It’s not an easy business to be in,” says Staley.”There’s a campaign only every other year and if it’s an incumbent it can be a quiet election.

But once every four years it’s good business.”

His company makes the large political signs and billboards seen dotting vacant lots and major roads around northern Nevada.

Outdoor Plus works for local candidates now, but when its proprietary printing technology was unique years ago the company shipped signs to campaigns in 13 states.

Today, the company still fills a niche at the high end of the billboard business because its drum scanner technology produces high resolution- 18,000 dots per inch images that reproduce well on huge signs.

Its non-political customers include the restaurant chain Panda Express, movie maker Warner Bros.

and Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Texas.

“I hate to date myself, but we’ve been producing signs since 1966, when Mike O’Callaghan ran for lieutenant governor,” says Staley, referring to the state’s popular governor from 1971 to 1979.”Not many people even know that he ran for lieutenant governor.”

That year O’Callaghan’s opponent, Ed Fike, who won the election, bought up all the billboard space in the area.

So every day O’Callaghan’s organization would call up the sign maker and, depending on how much money they had raised the day before, order a bunch of paper-on-plywood signs.

Staley says the company had two shifts working to keep pace.

“I’ve never seen any campaign like that.”

Ever since, Outdoor Plus has done work for most of Nevada’s best known politicians, including Paul Laxalt,Alan Bible and Howard Cannon.

This year, the company produced billboards for long-time state senator Bill Raggio.

Filling another niche is Nevada Political Advertising, a local maker of the large, movable boards called A-frame signs.

“We fill the niche between yard signs and billboards,” says John Casselli, a licensed agent with South Meadows Allstate who with his son runs the part-time sign business that he bought from Bill Winks six years ago.”They’re so much cheaper than billboards, which can cost about $4,000 a month.

The A-frames cost $1,500 for the season.”

That season runs from June,when candidates are allowed to start sign advertising, to the primary and, if the candidate wins, through the November election.

Casselli does everything for the set fee, from getting the signs made to moving them around using his Chevrolet Suburban.

“The politicians don’t do anything but write me a check,” said Casselli.

First, he gets the 8-foot vinyl banners that are stretched across the frames made, usually in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, using artwork either provided by the candidate or created by Casselli.

“I always discourage putting their face on it,” said Casselli.”Two years ago Lorraine Hunt had her face on it and someone cut it out from all the banners.”

Graffiti is another problem.

In Verdi two years ago, for example, someone painted all the yard signs, ripped banners off the Aframes and, in one case, stole the entire frame.

“It finally stopped when the sheriff ‘s office put a detective in the weeds.

I had armed guards out there for a week, too.”

Casselli also works with property owners to get permission to place the signs.

“The difficult part is to be connected with landlords and property owners,” he says.”You gotta keep the signs off the right-of-way.You’d be surprised by how far the right-of-way goes.”

He moves the signs around occasionally, depending on the candidate’s preferences.

The signs are not meant to be driven around as mobile advertising, but Casselli has transported signs as far away as Winnemucca and Elko for state-wide candidates such as Judge James Hardesty, who is running for a state supreme court seat.

Casselli owns about 60 frames, which are made of steel bought and welded locally.He spends the bulk of his time maintaining them during both the season and off-season when he stores them on a local ranch.He recycles the vinyl banners by giving them to ranchers and farmers to cover hay.

And if you’re thinking of hiring Casselli now, think again.

“I’m already sold out,” he says.”You’ll have to get on the waiting list.”


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