GOLD/25″/dt1st/jc2nd By JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter Take a drive down any of Los Angeles’ main thoroughfares, and you’ll see how Al Gold has left his mark on the city. Don’t look down the street look up. Festooned on light poles around L.A. are banners promoting everything from the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Pacoima-based Gold Graphics Manufacturing Co., a business that began with hand-painted signs sold from the back of Gold’s car, is now one of the region’s largest banner advertising companies. And last month, it became the first Valley business to receive a loan from the federally funded Los Angeles Community Development Bank. The $1 million loan will be used to help hire new employees and replace equipment damaged in the Northridge earthquake. “What piqued our interest is that (banner advertising) is a viable industry, and (Gold) has got a great track record,” said Robert Alaniz, a spokesman for the Community Development Bank, which is a partnership between government officials and commercial banks to provide funding to invest in poor neighborhoods after the 1992 riots. Pacoima is considered an “empowerment zone” by the bank, meaning businesses there are eligible for low-interest loans. “Gold had a bad turn of luck because of the earthquake, but we knew that given a break he could get back on track,” Alaniz added. Gold Graphics produces “point-of-purchase” advertising, meaning it creates displays consisting of everything from cardboard cutouts at retail stores to large outdoor banners. Perhaps its biggest coup to date was the contract to supply promotional signs for the World Cup soccer tournament in 1994. That year was momentous for Al Gold for more reasons than one. It was also the year he was nearly driven out of business. He had just begun work on the $2 million World Cup contract when his workshop in North Hollywood was practically destroyed by the Northridge earthquake, which caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage. Arriving at his 50,000-square-foot warehouse on the morning of the quake, Gold found the ceiling caved in. Banners were strewn across the floor and machinery was broken beyond repair. Worse yet, the damaged equipment wasn’t covered by insurance. For the first time since the company was founded in 1951, Gold realized his business was at stake. Instead of waiting for federal emergency funds to come through, Gold took it upon himself to keep the assembly line going. He leased new quarters a block away, and financed the move out of cash flow from the World Cup banners. By the time the first game kicked off, about 50,000 of the banners were distributed in the nine host cities including Los Angeles. Not only was the company able to recover from the quake, but business began to boom. Gold, 66, says the World Cup deal has helped his business triple in size in just a few years. Gold Graphics employs 120 workers including two of the owner’s nephews, a son-in-law and a stepson. “After the earthquake, I thought we were done for it was a shambles, and I thought we had lost the business,” said Gold, who added that after the quake his staff showed up at 6 a.m. for meetings and worked seven days each week. “I had no gas, no power, and no equipment then I had to produce 50,000 banners for the World Cup,” he said. “It was the biggest challenge I ever faced.” After completing the World Cup work, Gold received federal loans of about $1 million to offset costs related to the quake. Added to that was last month’s $1 million loan from the Community Development Bank, which Gold says will make his company stronger than ever. The loan, $400,000 of which comes from TransWorld Bank of Sherman Oaks (the Development Bank partners with private institutions on its loans), will be used to replace quake-damaged printing equipment and add 42 employees over the next two years. Although most people take point-of-purchase advertising for granted, it’s a big business worth $12 billion nationally in 1996, according to the Point-of-Purchase Advertising Institute in Washington, D.C. “There is a bombardment of messages in this business,” said Joe Casper, the institute’s communications manager. “You have to be innovative and beat out a lot of other media. The displays and signage that this industry has come up with is captivating and that’s a sign Gold Graphics is doing well.” Gold, a New York native, launched his career in the banner industry by making his first signs at home. His first deal was with an auto polish firm that bought $800 worth of signs. Gold later rented a $90-a month-store on Venice Boulevard and began to grow a business. He enlisted the help of his brother, Don, then a lingerie salesman. Both men still share ownership of Gold Graphics, with Don filling the role as president. And, right off the bat, both men found a niche to be filled at the region’s large oil companies. They promoted gas products at stations owned by Chevron Corp. and Unocal Corp. for decades. The business enabled them to move to the San Fernando Valley in 1961, opening up a factory and even branch offices in Houston and New York. As the company grew, Gold began to diversify. Along the way, he and his brother found new customers at car dealerships, financial companies, supermarkets and retail shops. Sporting events came down the pipeline years later, when the Olympic games came to town in 1984. At the time, many of the executives in charge of putting the games together had already worked with Gold. So, when it came time to putting together the visual packaging, Gold Graphics got the job. Gold eventually got half the contracts for banners and signs that were displayed at dozens of venues during the summer games some of which are collectors items today. Noting that sports was big business, Gold then began to focus on Super Bowls, local sports teams, and later the World Cup. He also diversified by signing up the Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Music Center. “For the bang-for-the-buck approach to things, this really works,” he said.