In the Ozark community near Marietta is the Dixie Country Store, but most people around the area know it better as the old Smith’s Grocery.
Owner Tim Long and his wife, Pam, bought the refurbished place in 2016 and added their touch to it.
Along with offering candy, sodas and snacks that many customers grew up with, the store is decorated with advertising signs, clocks, thermometers and other memorabilia that any collector would be proud to own.
Tim has some 300 signs and counting, and he hopes to add a few more to his collection soon.
“The first sign I bought was an O.K. Used Cars thermometer at a flea market in Wren back in 1987,” he said. “I paid $35 for it. Now it’ll bring about $300.”
He plans to take a good hard look Friday when the automobilia – advertising signs and other non-car related memorabilia – go up for auction at the Tupelo Automobile Museum.
“What appeals more to me now isn’t the condition of the signs, but the history,” he said,
And his store has plenty of history on display.
A Standard Oil sign came from a store in the Blackland community in Prentiss County; a Brookshire Ice Cream sign belonged to the Columbus-based creamery. Other signs and collectibles with Mississippi ties include Southland Oil, White Rose, Reed Bros. Dairy, J.J. Rogers and Southern Belle. The latest addition to the collection is the Leake and Goodlett sign that was on the east wall of the Tupelo store that recently closed after 115 years in business.
At the Tupelo Automobile Museum, many signs have Long’s interest, but two in particular stand out.
“I’d love to own every piece in there, but that’s not going to happen,” Long said with a laugh. “The two pieces that I’d really love to have are the Buick and Oldmobile neon signs from the old George Ruff dealership in Tupelo. I sincerely hope that somebody from north Mississippi will buy them and keep them here, because it’s a piece of Tupelo history I’d hate to see leave. It would break my heart to see them go.”
The Buick and Olds signs won’t go cheap however. Bonham’s which is conducting the auction, estimates each sign will draw $5,000 to $7,000.
On top of that is a buyer’s premium. Bonham’s says, “For automobilia and other non-motor vehicle property, the premium is 27.5% on the first $3,000 of the bid price, 25% of the amount exceeding $3,000, up to and including $400,000, 20% of the amount exceeding $400,000, up to and including $4,000,000, and 13.9% on any amount exceeding $4,000,000.”
None of the signs or other memorabilia will reach six figures, but the high premium is an added fee that will hold back many people from bidding, Long said.
“I’ve never heard of a premium that high,” he said. “Usually, a buyer’s premium is 10 percent and a seller’s premium is 20 percent tops. I’ve done a lot of auctions and even been to a lot of auctions, but I’ve never seen a buyer’s premium that high. I think a lot of people will be scared off when they get there and see that.”
Still, he thinks somebody with the means and interest will get the Buick and Oldsmobile signs, regardless of the price and premium.
“I’m still excited about going to the auction, but I’ll hate to see a lot of our local stuff leave,” Long said.
Long’s interest in collecting signs started at an early age, riding along with his father as he delivered Dr Pepper to area stores.
“We used to pick up some do the things when the merchants wanted to throw away some of their things and replace it with something new,” Tim said. Store owners tossed away everything from signs to shelving, not knowing one day collectors would see those items as collectibles. But Long had an eye for the early and started building his vast colllection.
“Fortunately for me, Pam loves this stuff as much as I do,” he said. “When we go on vacation I blow most of my money on signs snd stuff.”
Long rarely if ever sells any of his signs. He might trade for another one, however.
“If I do sell one, it’s because I want the money to buy another sign that I really like,” he said.
He won’t be selling or trading any of his signs do the Buick or Oldsmobile signs, however.
“I’d be OK of one of my competitor sign guys bought them, as long as they stayed in the area,” he said. “It’s a piece of history that needs to stay here.”