Dave Waller salvaged his first sign, a simple piece of painted sheet metal that once hung outside a clothing shop, when he was 9. A few years later, he began to collect and restore neon signs from junkyards, trash heaps, and closed-down businesses. Since then, Waller, now 46, has collected and restored 120 vintage neon signs, some as tall as 30 feet. Waller, founder of Brickyard VFX, a Boston-based visual-effects company that works on commercials and films, spends many nights working on the signs in a workshop in his Malden, Massachusetts, home. It takes about six months to repair the wiring, glass, and metalwork on each one, but Waller relishes the chance to return artifacts of defunct establishments to their former glory. "Seeing something come back from the dead like that is very satisfying," he says.

Cost: Waller pays from $100 to $1,000 for most signs and spends as much as $10,000 to ship and restore each one.

Sentimental find: A sign from Jimmy's Harborside Restaurant in Boston, a family favorite when Waller was growing up

Recent repair: A sign from the 1950s that hung outside a McDonald's in Wichita, Kansas. It features the fast-food chain's first mascot, Speedee.