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Wholey's Smiling Fish Looks for a New Home

The iconic Wholey’s smiling fish sign has looked down over the Strip District for nearly 25 years, but it will soon need to find a new home.

The building which housed Wholey’s Wholesale until 2007 will soon be redeveloped, which means the sign needs to come down.

Jim Wholey, president of Wholey’s, said he wants the public’s help in determining where the smiling fish’s new home should be.

“That’s part of Pittsburgh, that’s part of the fabric,” Wholey said. “We owe it to Pittsburgh to let them decide where that sign’s gonna go.”

Before submitting an idea, Wholey asked that people get permission from the property owner.

Mayor-elect Bill Peduto said the city will help streamline the process.

“We’ll work with you on the zoning issues,” Peduto said. “We’ll help you to find how to cut through the red tape in order to be able to see this smiling fish land in a great place.”

He implied that perhaps the Heinz History Center would make a good permanent home for the 100-foot long, 60-foot tall fish.

“I have an idea right down the street, with a certain museum, but I don’t know if they would be able to approve,” Peduto said. “I think you know which museum I’m talking about, that celebrates Pittsburgh’s history.”

Wholey said a decision will be made based on which location receives the most nominations, and that his company will continue to pay the electric bill for the sign.

The sign itself is made up of dozens of eco-friendly LED lights. Wholey said he wasn’t sure exactly how many bulbs there were, but that it costs around $16,000 to change them every two years.

Wholey’s father got the idea for the sign when he visited Hong Kong in the 1980s and saw neon animal signs on the tops of buildings. As a surprise, his employees created a make-shift smiling fish with Christmas lights. But that sign proved to be too flimsy to deal with Pittsburgh’s weather, so eventually Sargent Electric stepped in to help create a permanent sign.

Pittsburghers have until Jan. 31 to submit their suggestions for a new smiling fish location.

Suggestions can be submitted in person at the Wholey’s store on Penn Avenue, via e-mail at smilingfish@gmail.com, via Twitter with the hashtag #smilingfish, or on the Wholey’s Facebook page.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
As a public media organization, WESA provides free and accessible news service to the public.

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