Mel Cotton’s

Mel Cotton’s Sporting Goods “Where Successful Adventures Begin” just closed down after being in business since 1946. And since the area will see redevelopment pretty soon, their distinctive sign (probably from 1955 when the store moved to it’s present location) will be gone soon too. One of my favorite things about this sign is that the mountain on the sign echoes the shape of the mountains ( well, hills, actually) in the far distance behind it.

I was there just a couple of days ago, and while the big sign was lit up and  said “OPEN”, the notice on the door made it very clear that wasn’t true. “Closed Forever!” sounds pretty final.

Here is another sketch very similar to the one above, that I made on the day I read a piece by Sal Pizzaro in the San Jose Mercury News announcing that the store was closing. The piece has a little bit of history of the owner, Mel Cotton (yes, that was his actual name) and talks about some of the factors that led to the store finally closing it’s doors. While redevelopment might be what we need to keep up with the needs of the city, it’s worth thinking about the exchange we’re making when big chains replace a lot of smaller independent businesses. That sounds a little bit like ‘one step forward and two steps back’ when you consider how much is lost when you shut down unique businesses for homogenized offerings from chain stores.


I’ve spent quite a bit of time at the local archives digging up what I can find about these signs and clippings of Sal Pizarro’s pieces show up in the the archives all the time. To someone like me, who has lived in San Jose only a decade, these pieces are often the only history and human stories I can find connecting old signs I find with stories that are quickly lost. Thank you, Sal!

1266 W San Carlos ( San Carlos and Race Street)

4 Comments Mel Cotton’s

  1. Pingback: End of the Year stuff | Sketch Away: Travels with my sketchbook

  2. Don Sulgit December 23, 2016 at 10:27 am

    Thanks for the great paintings I worked there for many years and moved this year out of state,i have a few good photos and a lot of memories and my wife painted a few signs for them.Don Sulgit Buyer/manager for Mels

    1. Suhita December 23, 2016 at 11:10 pm

      Hi Don, thanks for writing in! Would you know who could answer a few questions about Mels for me. I’m particularly interested in the sign design, who came up with that montain logo, whether it was inspired by a particular mountain, and when the sign came up. I’m also curious to know if the sign will be preserved ( or moved and still preserved) even when the store is gone. It would be a shame to lose it… if there’s anyone you know that could asnwer my questions, I’d love if you can put me in touch with them. You can mail me at suhita(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. Don Sulgit January 23, 2017 at 1:12 pm

    Hi Suhita,thanks for replying, i just came back to look as i saved the link you,sorry for the late reply.
    I will look thru my old photos to see if i can tell when the sign was redone to its current design, i remember the old sign from the late 80s to early 90,s when i started. and i have an old friend Johnny Perkins who remembers the old sign as it stated Guns and Boots!
    I have been in touch with Stan Cotton on Facebook ,He is Mels son and property owner since the early 90s.
    I would have to trace the sign logo to Neil Collins former General Manager, he made most of the changes and updates to the store thru the 90s, i don’t know about any preservation of the existing signs.
    I managed to get a few photos of an old sign they had in Fresno before it was tossed in the trash, i was hoping to get the canvas painting from the front windows but was not able to get them.but i did get 2 internal signs from the store both painted by my wife Lorna ,


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