- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Standing on a concrete island at the entrance to a suburban strip center, Tito Salih flipped a 6-foot-long sign into the air- “Pools Plus Now Open” -and watched it twirl one, two, three times before he secured it back in his hands.

As a Jeep Cherokee approached, he instinctively turned the 5-pound mini-billboard into a directional tool, pointing it toward Pools Plus, a new business in the shopping center.

The driver slowed down, smiled and waved from his sunroof.

Mission accomplished.

The 19-year-old Salih, after all, is hired not only to entertain passers-by (in vehicles and on foot) with the tricks he has honed since he was 14 but also to catch the eye of potential customers for clients.

He is among several dozen sign spinners in central Ohio who have undergone training. As such, spinners can twirl a bulky sign while lying on a sidewalk, doing a handstand or dancing alongside a road- all while getting their message across.

During his recent shift for Pools Plus, Salih spent five hours on a Thursday afternoon spinning and break dancing as Kanye West tunes filled his earbuds- his efforts eliciting honks and waves.

“This (location) fills up after 3 p.m. when cars will stop right by me,” said Salih, who has worked for the past five years for AArrow Street Spinners, one of at least two such companies with operations in central Ohio.

“That’s when I get to interact with people.”

A successful spinner, both practitioners and their bosses say, must be personable.

Which is why Jordan Hall prefers to ply his trade at busy intersections.

“I have a favorite category- corners like this one -with like eight lanes and lots of interaction and traffic,” said Hall, who has worked for four years at Street Hop Advertising.

Before long, two young men who were stopped at the traffic light captured video of Hall as he did a sweep- passing the sign behind his back while leaning on one hand and spinning it under his legs.

“It makes a whole circle,” said Hall, a recent high school graduate.

The 18-year-old, who recently moved to Coshocton, has even devised- and named -a few tricks.

“You get to make people laugh and be the center of attention,” Hall said. “Everyone rolls by with cameras and thinks you’re the coolest thing on the block.”

If Hall had his druthers, of course, he would rather draw such responses from a particular gender, his boss said.

“He likes it more when the girls jump out and want to take a picture with him,” said a laughing Melvin Harter, who founded Street Hop in 2009.

Joking aside, Harter said, sign spinning requires dedication and personality.

“A lot of people we can weed out real quickly,” he said. “We have a lot of applications that come in, and people think it’s just sign-holding, or they’re intimidated by the traffic.”

The unanimated need not apply.

New recruits to AArrow attend a weeklong “boot camp,” said Justin Bertsche, general manager of the company’s Columbus location, one of 32 franchises worldwide.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Bertsche said. “You can’t just hire a person and put him on the street.”

Once on board, spinners can learn up to 350 tricks from the company’s “tricktionary” (whose details are a well-guarded secret) and attend twice-a-week practice sessions. Although the sessions are geared more toward novices, veteran spinners sometimes show up to hone a trick or help the less-experienced.

Advanced spinners have an opportunity to participate in the World Sign Spinning Championships, hosted annually by AArrow.

In February, Hilliard resident Casey Ream traveled to Las Vegas to compete in the 2015 event, placing ninth out of almost 100 participants.

The 25-year-old Ream, an employee of AArrow since 2010, is also a “spinstructor” who leads most practices.

During a recent practice, he began with stretches- to prevent “spinjuries.” Then, he and about a dozen spinners ran through a set of drills, beginning with lifting a sign above the head 10 times and progressing to more difficult moves, such as the “suitcase change flip” (which entails flipping the sign from one armpit to the other).

“I’m going to get this,” said 17-year-old Christian Hill- drawing quick attention from Salih, who showed him a key to the move.

The “team” culture, Hill said, is one reason that he embraced his inner spinner.

“I needed money, but I realized it wasn’t about the money- I found a passion,” said Hill, who has been spinning almost a year.

Most spinners are 14- to 26-year-old males, and both company owners said the job is well-suited to teens- with hourly pay starting at $10 and increasing from there based on years of service and level of trick skills.

The lone female on AArrow’s staff- Brittany Heidt -welcomes the challenges of the work.

“It builds confidence,” she said, “and you get to be outside with a group of positive people.”

Ream finds the low-tech marketing concept appealing.

“Most marketing is done with technology these days,” Ream said. “So much of it is online. We have a niche here and still market in person.”

And the strategy works, according to at least one area business.

Cort Furniture has contracted for the past three years with Street Hop Advertising, said Ken Prewett, the store’s clearance-center manager.

On days when spinners strut their stuff at the intersection nearest Cort, Prewett said, the store has a 25 percent increase in traffic.

“People will come in and say, ‘Hey, we saw you’ve got this guy out there with a big sign,’??” he said. “I’ve always been a little surprised with what they can do with the sign.”

Along with furniture stores, apartment complexes, gyms and restaurants are among the most frequent clients of spinners, whose tricks certainly aren’t learned overnight.

When Salih first picked up a sign at age 14, he found it so awkward that he never anticipated making a decent wage off it.

After mastering a basic spin, though, he began practicing several hours a day, he said, and other tricks followed.

“Now, it feels like the sign is a part of my body.”

___

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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