PARKSLEY, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- A vintage Coca-Cola advertisement painted on the side of the former Parksley Grocery Company got a fresh coat of paint in June, thanks to the new owner of the building and hours of work by two artists.
Town residents had talked for years about wanting to preserve the fading image, but the former owners reportedly nixed the idea of repainting it, according to Tim Valentine.
Valentine, manager of the nearby Club Car Cafe, purchased the building about a year ago.
He enlisted David Parks and Billy Crockett to freshen up the sign, which reads "Drink Coca-Cola, 5 cents at all fountains, relieves fatigue, 'nuf said."
"As soon as we bought the building, we wanted to do it," said Valentine, who has been in Parksley for 40 years.
"I've always admired the building," he said.
Valentine talked to the Coca-Cola company about getting the sign refurbished. The company has people who do the work, but "the list is so long, they said it would be years and years before they would ever get to it. I was just afraid it would deteriorate so much you wouldn't be able to save it."
Crockett and Parks did the work over several days in June, using a lift donated by Richard Lewis to reach the uppermost parts of the huge sign, which covers virtually the entire side of the 2 1/2 story brick building at the corner of Bennett Street and Mill Road in downtown Parksley.
Additional lettering at the bottom of the sign identifies the building as the Parksley Grocery Co. and says cigars and tobacco also were for sale there.
Crockett and Parks added one new touch — they signed their handiwork at the bottom.
The project took about 20 hours to complete, they said.
The exact age of the sign is not clear, but longtime Parksley resident Willie Mears, who moved to the town as a child in 1935, told Parks the sign was there when he arrived.
A 1930 photograph shows the sign, Valentine said.
Parksley was founded on a former farm in February 1895, the year after the completion of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad to Cape Charles.
According to the Jan. 12, 1906, edition of the Eastern Shore Herald, a fire a few years previous had destroyed the business section of the town, "but the business men and property owners of the place with commendable pluck and enterprise, went to work and builded again even better structures than ever before."
The article does not give the exact year the fire happened.
Among the many new buildings constructed in the year leading up to the report was a "new brick store house and handsome hall above on Bennett st."
Valentine has a folder containing copies of documents that give additional clues about the building's history, including an advertisement from the July 11, 1908, edition of the Peninsula Enterprise, which states that a storehouse with a grocery attached on Bennett Street is for rent or sale. "Sell cheap or lease for term of years," the advertisement reads, advising interested parties to apply to E. T. Parks of the town.
Former Parksley resident Arthur King Fisher, who wrote several books about Eastern Shore history and culture and who once served as Accomack County administrator, wrote a brief history of the building.
Valentine has a copy of the one-page, typed document in the folder.
According to Fisher, the building for many years was the Parksley Grocery Company, which was operated by George Crowson and others. Crowson lived from 1877 to 1942, Valentine said.
In the early 1940s, the building housed a five-and-dime store operated by the Mathias family, Fisher wrote, adding, "I recall, when I was a child, buying candy corn from the showcase just inside of the store."
In 1950, then-owners Marguerite Hopkins and her mother, Mrs. A. Stephen Hopkins, remodeled the store and added an Art Deco glass brick facade, he wrote.
The building then became a Virginia ABC store for about the next 50 years.
After that, the building housed a tax service, and it currently houses a Caribbean market.
According to a history posted on the Coca-Cola website, the retail price of a Coca‑Cola, sold in 6 ½ -ounce bottles or at soda fountains, remained a nickel for some seven decades.
A 2012 NPR report gives additional information about the nickel Coke.
The price dated to 1886, when the beverage was sold exclusively at soda fountains, according to the report. In 1889, two attorneys asked the company's president for the right to bottle the soda.
According to the deal that ensued, the company would sell the syrup needed to make the beverage to the men at a fixed price, forever. That made it in the company's interest to keep the price at a nickel once bottled sodas became more popular.
"If the bottlers or a corner store decided to raise the price of a bottle of Coke, Coca-Cola wouldn't get any extra money," according to the report by David Kestenbaum.
The proliferation of advertisements featuring the nickel price likely resulted, according to Andrew Young, an economist at West Virginia University who is quoted in the NPR report.
The contract eventually was renegotiated, but the price remained a nickel for some time longer, in part because vending machines were calibrated to take the coin and it was thought the next larger denomination of coin, a dime, would be too large a price increase at one time.
The last nickel Coke apparently was sold in 1959, according to the report.
According to the website antiquearchaeology.com, uncredited artists known as "wall dogs" painted hundreds of signs similar to the one in Parksley, which advertised various products in the decades before the Great Depression. Such advertisements "were considered the main advertising platform beginning in 1890," according to the website.
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