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Former Whitey's owner hangs on to nostalgic signs

The original Whitey's Wonderbar and Cafe sign wraps around the building in East Grand Forks. The iconic restaurant is now home to Sickies Garage Burgers & Brews. (Janelle Vonasek/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
Tim Bjerk of Roseau, Minn., former owner of Whitey’s Wonderbar and Cafe in East Grand Forks, says the iconic signs that greeted people for decades are now in safe storage. He's not sure where he'll eventually put them, but he says he hopes to give them a home in lights again someday. (Janelle Vonasek/Grand Forks Herald) 2 / 2

ROSEAU, Minn. — After being lit up in neon lights (and later, LED) for decades, the giant words that greeted people to Whitey's Wonderbar and Cafe now are sitting in the dark in storage somewhere — very secure storage.

Tim Bjerk, the longtime Roseau businessman who for 6½ years owned the iconic East Grand Forks bar and restaurant that weathered the Prohibition Era and the Flood of 1997, said he wasn't about to let them go.

"We made that agreement in the purchase," he said. "Anything they weren't going to keep, I wanted back. I just wanted to save them for keepsake. I didn't want to see them destroyed."

Starmark Hospitality bought the eatery in August and opened its Fargo-based Sickies Garage Burgers & Brews at the location last week.

Bjerk said Saturday he and his wife, Kristi, don't know exactly what they'll do with the outdoor signs, but they'd like to find a new home for them someday.

"Put it this way, we made sure we made a special trip to make sure we got down there to pick them up," he said. "We have good memories of Whitey's, even prior to us purchasing it. And more memories while we owned it. We got to know the people who made Whitey's what it is, and we got to know the community."

Through the years, thousands of other people also got to know Whitey's. It was a spot for memories and a place to share family meals, big events or just to meet for a beer with friends after the game. Many of the same people might like to get their hands on that giant "Whitey's" or a piece of its wrap-around art deco, but Bjerk says he hasn't heard from them yet.

"They probably don't know I have it," he said with a chuckle.

But even if someone had designs on it, Bjerk said it's just too big to hang in any man cave. The main riverside sign measures 22 feet long and 3½ to 4 feet tall.

So, for now, Bjerk is just happy to hold onto a big piece of history.

"We're thankful for the community," he said. "It was fun, but we're happy Sickies has decided to join the East Grand Forks community and keep Whitey's Underground an ongoing tradition."

Starmark owner Scott Upton earlier said he was looking at options to incorporate the Whitey's name in the basement of his new restaurant.