How the Florence Water Tower Went from Mall to Y'all
It's one of the most recognizable landmarks on Interstate 75, from Canada all the way to Miami, Florida. Motorists have been driving by the peppermint striped water tower emblazoned with the words "Florence Y'All" for over 40 years, but few if any know how those words ended up there. “I’ve wondered about that ever since I was a little girl,” says Kim Shears of Independence, who drives by it on her way to the Florence Mall, which sits in the tower’s shadow.
Mall lore says that the shopping center had some sort of disagreement with the city, and in a fit of retaliation local officials had the “M” repainted thus denying the center a bit of free advertising. That tale, however, is erroneous. Another story claims that citizens and local businesses complained that the mall was receiving taxpayer-subsidized advertising, but this too is inaccurate.
The water tower actually predates the mall by a few years, but the developers, who had just broken ground for the complex, agreed to paint the structure if they could put the words "Florence Mall" across it, which would indeed provide them with some free advertising.
It was actually a good deal for the city according to C.M. "Hop" Ewing, who was mayor of Florence in the mid-70s. He made his remarks to the Northern Kentucky Challenger in 2006. Ewing also happens to be the father of current mayor Diane Whalen. "There wasn't any objection to the plan because it's quite expensive to have a tower of that size painted," he said. Thus, the tower was painted with the words "Florence Mall" on top, and that's where the story should have ended.
"I later received a note from the state highway department,” Ewing continued. “We were advertising something that wasn't there. I didn't pay any attention to it because the foundation for the mall had already been laid. It was being built."
Federal authorities then contacted the mayor and insisted that the top of the tower be repainted or covered with a tarp. Knowing he had to do something, and rather quickly, Ewing sketched the tower on a restaurant napkin and after fiddling with it for a while came up with a solution. "I knocked the legs off of the 'M’ …(and) added an apostrophe.”
Time was of the essence, so the mayor contacted the company that had painted the tower originally. To paint out the word "mall" would cost $1,200. As mayor he only had authorization, without a city council meeting, to spend $500 on projects. He pulled out the napkin and described his idea over the phone to the painter. "He said I was crazy." However, the price was only $475, and Ewing asked him how soon he could get to the tower.
"A few weeks," was the reply.
"No, today," Ewing insisted, "I have to have this done by six o'clock tonight." The painters immediately drove down to Florence. "At ten after six they finished the second apostrophe and the job was done."
Initially, the "M" was to be restored to satisfy the agreement with the developers who had paid to have the entire tower painted, to begin with. However, before that could happen the city acquired the land on which the tower sits in order to issue bonds to upgrade the water mains that run to the mall.
Having “Florence Mall” on the tower would have violated local sign ordinances since the city now owned the land. So, the “Y’all” stayed put. “It’s a landmark that people look for all up and down Interstate Seventy-Five,” Ewing boasts.
Indeed, it’s internationally recognized as the administrative assistant for Mayor Whelan, Donna Smith can attest. Years ago while vacationing in Florida, she overheard some travelers from Canada talking by the hotel pool. “They were talking about eating at the Cracker Barrel by the Florence Y’All Mall sign.”
To this day, Mr. Ewing still proudly says, “I’m Mr. Y’All.”
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