Philip Gringer established a small storefront hardware store at #29 1st Avenue, between East 1st and 2nd Streets, in 1918. The store was a success, and now the floor space now occupies much of the block, including the corner building. However, its spectacular neon sign, in red and gold with the old General Electric logo flanking either side in blue, first appeared in 1953, according to the late Christopher Grey of the Times (the article generously references this website).
The sign was designed by Charles Karsch, a Russian immigrant who started his career as a sign painter in 1903. Among his other designs are neon for the White Horse Tavern, Hudson and West 11th Streets, and the fantastical P&G Cafe sign at West 73rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Sadly that sign, along with the cafe, has been gone for over a decade. This and many other great neon signs can be seen at that link.
This is a great area for prime neon. Nearby on East Houston Street are neon signs on the Russ & Daughters deli, and Katz’s Deli.
From the Municipal Archives, here’s a 1940 tax photo of 1st Avenue. The Gringer store was located midblock and is marked by the sign that says “STOVES.” Gringer’s name is at the top. At the time, the 2nd Avenue El rumbled above 1st Avenue to East 23rd Street, where it ducked over a block to 2nd Avenue.