Category Archives: Business

My Dad

My Dad

June 10, 2010

This June marks the second Father’s Day since my Dad passed away. I think about him frequently, partly because he bequeathed me his entire name: James Edward Reynolds. That was a decision he may have regretted from time to time, but if he did, he never mentioned it. Dad was known as “Sonny” until he met my Mom one afternoon in the late 1940s on a Selma, Alabama, street corner. (She hailed the taxi he was driving for his father’s Red Top Cab company.) She preferred the name “Jim,” or so they say. But I always enjoyed hearing our relatives call him Sonny.

My father’s future profession as an Internal Revenue Service auditor marked him as suspect in the eyes of many in the community. He prepared my tax returns every spring, and I felt helpless the first April 15 that he was no longer around. Many Selma residents who made jokes about the IRS nevertheless sought his counsel during tax season, especially at the Baptist church we attended. As April 15 loomed, Dad would get into his annual telephone shouting matches with the finance director at our church. The director had questions regarding church members’ contributions and tax deductions, and my deeply religious father always complained that the church put him in a “damn awkward situation” when they asked his advice on such matters.

After his B-24 bomber was shot down over Germany, his buddies at the air base assumed he was dead and drank a few rounds in his memory, which they charged to him. He wasn’t a drinking man. After his rescue, he refused to pay for the cocktails when presented with the bill. He didn’t like to spend money. A bowl of water filled with envelopes frequently sat on the kitchen counter, the contents soaking so that the stamps could be removed and used again. Dad never failed to pick up pennies in parking lots. Yet his generosity had no boundaries or conditions. He financed three college educations, gave his children down payments on their first homes, and tossed in a few bucks to help buy cars for his kids and grandchildren from time to time.

He spared no expense in caring for dogs, either. Someone shot our Old English sheepdog Sebastian in our backyard one night, presumably for barking. My father ran onto the patio in his boxer shorts, waving a .44 while shouting for the dog’s long-gone assailant to return for a showdown. The next day, Dad drove Sebastian to Auburn’s veterinary school, which saved the dog’s life. He and I shared a fondness for dogs. Being a pragmatic sort who wanted to prepare his son for the sadness of burying a pet, he often asked about my aging dog Nicky, only to follow with this reminder: “Son, you know you’re going to come home and find her dead one day.” I laughed and told him I was going to visit and find him dead one day. He thought that was pretty funny.

The most endearing memory of my Dad is the devoted care he gave during the last seven years of his life to my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. In the early 1990s, my parents moved from Selma to Tuscaloosa. I spent Friday nights at their house a couple of times a month to give Dad moral support. The ritual was always the same; we went to Captain D’s for “supper.” (The evening meal was never “dinner” in our household; “dinner” described what most people refer to as lunch.) Then we watched their favorite TV program, “Wheel of Fortune,” as he and Mom attempted to solve the puzzles while commenting on Vanna White’s scandalous attire. After that it was time for Atlanta Braves baseball. Dad would make Mom stay awake until the seventh inning to keep her mind active. From season to season, the onset of her dementia could be somewhat measured as she slowly began to forget the names of Braves players. After Mom went to bed, Dad and I sat in our recliners, often watching war documentaries or reading. He usually read the Bible, whereas I might be reading a biography of Ho Chi Minh. He often expressed his disdain for the invasion of Iraq and shocked me one night when he said that had my brother and I been drafted to go to Vietnam, he would have considered sending us to Canada. I used to tease him about the “No Lottery” sign he posted in his front yard when the issue was proposed years ago, because any time he traveled through Georgia he always bought $5 worth of lottery tickets.

Dad’s pragmatism was best exhibited in 1945 during World War II, after the B-24 bomber he co-piloted was shot down over Germany. Crawling from the wreckage, my father and the pilot found themselves facing two dozen enemy solders and a German “tiger” tank. The pilot whipped out his .45 automatic, urging my father to “shoot it out” with the Nazis. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Put that gun away!” Dad shouted at the pilot. Dad later discovered that his buddies at the airbase where he was stationed in England had assumed he was dead and drank a few rounds in his memory, which they charged to him. He wasn’t a drinking man. After his rescue, he refused to pay for the cocktails when presented with the bill.

In July of 2008, Dad was hospitalized for a kidney problem. He developed pneumonia and spent three weeks with a ventilator in his throat. His living will stipulated that no artificial life support was to be used, and as his condition deteriorated, my brother, sister, and I were faced with deciding at what point to carry out his wishes. He was unconscious most of the time but would open his eyes and try to talk for an hour or so every couple of days. One night he was able to remove one of the mittens he was forced to wear that prevented him from pulling out the breathing tube. He snatched the ventilator from his throat and refused to allow it to be replaced. When my sister arrived at the hospital, the first question he asked was, “Is your mother taken care of?” My sister reassured him that Mom was okay. He died the next day.

At his funeral, a soldier played “Taps” and the American flag that had draped his coffin was folded and given to my sister. The soldiers seemed to struggle while folding the flag, prompting my father’s 90-year-old sister to lean over to me and whisper, “Sonny’s up there in Heaven griping, ‘They sent rookie soldiers for my funeral.’” We quietly laughed, reassured that no one would have found the moment funnier than my father. There are good dads and lousy dads. I was blessed to have been raised by one of the good guys.

A Facelift for Woodlawn

A Facelift for Woodlawn

Once a bustling Birmingham neighborhood, Woodlawn seeks a return to its former status.



August 04, 2011

Vincent Oliver has been cutting hair in downtown Woodlawn for 44 years. Oliver attended kindergarten, elementary, and high school in Woodlawn but left after graduation to attend barber college in Jacksonville, Florida.

“There was no barber college in Alabama when I got out of high school,” he explains. Degree in hand, he eventually returned to his childhood neighborhood and in 1966 opened Vincent Oliver’s Hippodrome Barber Shop. Oliver is one of the few white residents to have resisted relocating due to the urban blight that has gripped Woodlawn for nearly three decades beginning in the late 1970s.

Woodrow Hall, a renovated event facility in Woodlawn available for parties and other events. (click for larger version)



Running a one-barber operation, Vincent Oliver admits that Woodlawn has seen better days. “It was a real busy downtown district in the ’50s and ’60s. It had a Morgan Brothers Department Store. It had about four barber shops, had a Woodlawn bakery, had a shoe-repair shop, had restaurants, a hardware store,” he reminisces, perched in a barber chair after finishing with a customer. “It was a real, real busy hub right here.”

When asked if he has encountered any criminal element in the neighborhood, Oliver replies, “I’ve had no problems, it’s been real safe. People sometimes get the mis-idea about Woodlawn. When I tell people I work in Woodlawn, they say, ‘Oh ain’t you scared to go to Woodlawn?’ But it’s nice, it’s really nice.”

“People from Birmingham fail to see some of the potential that’s right before them.” —Andrew Morrow

Not long ago Woodlawn was not “really nice” or “real safe.” Many will argue that it still isn’t. But thanks to an influx of private and public funding, a revitalization effort that began several years ago has pulled the community together, and Woodlawn appears to be gradually on the rebound.

In 2004 Main Street Birmingham (MSB), a nonprofit organization that contracts with the city of Birmingham to foster public-private partnerships designed to revitalize neighborhood commercial districts, moved to the area. Two years later, the Central YWCA established a presence in Woodlawn when it came to the financial rescue of the Interfaith Hospitality House—a shelter for homeless families. Other nonprofit organizations followed: The Church of the Highlands partnered with Christ Health Center to open a medical clinic; Desert Island Supply Company has established itself as a writing lab for children living in Woodlawn; Cornerstone School is a charter school that has contributed to Woodlawn’s rebirth.

At the center of this revitalization is YWCA Central’s $11 million project to build state-of-the-art shelters for homeless families. Funded by a partnership between the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of Birmingham’s Community Development Department, and private donors, the complex includes four apartment buildings with 58 units of affordable housing (both transitional and permanent), as well as a new facility for an Interfaith Hospitality House that can shelter six homeless families. The house allows intact families to remain together.

“We started out with a small vision just to build a replacement shelter and opportunities and funding kept coming our way,” explains YWCA Central Alabama CEO Suzanne Durham. “We’ve run housing for over a hundred years, we are not new to housing . . . We’re the only shelter in the state that takes homeless dads with kids. We’re one of very few that takes women with teenaged boys in the state, and we’re one of very few in the state that takes two-parent families.”

To take advantage of the Y’s transitional and permanent housing opportunities, occupants must be employed or on retirement or social security income. Criminal background checks are also required.

The YWCA’s project also includes a Family Resource Center. Purchasing the property, which was formerly a convenience store where illegal activities were allegedly taking place, was the catalyst in helping change Woodlawn’s shoddy reputation, Durham says.

“What was once a former convenience store—and I mean ‘convenience’ where a lot of unhealthy activities took place, activities that made folks often afraid to stop at the traffic light—has been transformed into a wonderful activities center for the residents of our apartment complexes, as well as community residents,” Durham said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May christening the completion of the current phase of the YWCA complex. “We knew if we didn’t acquire the property, our work for transforming the neighborhood would be for naught.”

Main Street Birmingham, meanwhile, is close to opening an arts incubator in Woodlawn. In March, the Birmingham City Council voted to give $50,000 to 55th Place Arts, a $250,000 project located next door to Main Street Birmingham, which will lease the space to tenants.

Vincent Oliver’s Hippodrome barber shop has operated—largely unchanged—in Woodlawn since 1966. (Photo: Ginger Ann Brook, (click for larger version)



“We’ve occupied this building since 2005, [it] has our office, as well as some space in it that we maintain and is basically to incubate small business or nonprofits at an affordable rate,” says David Fleming, executive director of Main Street Birmingham. “A year ago we acquired the properties next door to us going to the end of the block, which is a total of six different storefronts that were all about only 40 percent occupied. Construction is under way now on renovating those buildings and filling up the vacant spaces with arts business incubation, or what we call ‘creative professionals.’ So it could be somebody involved in some sort of artistic endeavor as their business; it could be a dance studio or maybe a graphic design person.” Fleming said the arts incubator is likely to open in September.

Main Street Birmingham is also partnering with City Meats, located directly across the street from the Hippodrome barber shop. Samuel Crawford, director of business growth for MSB, explains: “The City Meats effort is just one of the overall initiatives. We’re working with individuals, community organizations, and neighborhoods to establish a series of public markets, the target being those communities that are considered by the United States Department of Agriculture, and our study that we had done of Birmingham, that are considered ‘food deserts.’ Those are communities that either lack access to healthy food sources, or access is limited. The overall effort is, how do you get more fresh produce offerings in these communities?”

MSB was also instrumental in the opening of Woodrow Hall, a top-tier events venue, in Woodlawn. “We were involved with Woodrow Hall in that when the new owners came around looking for opportunities, we encouraged them and helped them with the transaction for them to purchase that,” says Fleming. “That’s one of the things we do; If we find people that we can encourage to buy and invest in the area, we will do that and try to help provide incentives for them to do it. They didn’t need any financial incentive; they just needed to see the opportunity and we directed them to that. They’ve done a great job with that building.”

The three-story Woodrow Hall, at 5500 First Avenue North, is a former Masonic Lodge that was built in 1914. Andrew Morrow and his business partners purchased the building, which is currently used as a venue for weddings, parties, and other special events. Morrow has a landscaping and construction business, and has been involved in building lofts in downtown Birmingham.

“People from Birmingham fail to see some of the potential that’s right before them,” Morrow explains, “So I learned how to renovate stuff and I saw the value in taking something that’s old and how you can change it and make it new.” Morrow says that the adage that stipulates “build it and they will come” applies to his reason for opening Woodrow Hall. “You’ve got Crestwood right there [near Woodlawn] with houses that sell for maybe $200,000. But on the other side of this building [Woodrow Hall] a stone’s throw away [from Crestwood], you can buy a lot for 2,000 bucks or a house that needs a ton of work for $15,000. That’s a huge disparity.” Morrow adds that, because of the location, hosting an event at Woodrow Hall is much cheaper than at similar event facilities in the Birmingham area.

Travis Morgan, president of local record label Skybucket Records, says he was not aware that Woodrow Hall existed until he attended a yoga class there recently with his wife. He decided that the facility would be the ideal setting for local band Delicate Cutters to hold their record-release party.

“It wasn’t just another show, so we wanted to kind of up the ante a little bit,” Morgan says. “It’s real elegant; they dress [Woodrow Hall] up.” Morgan admits that it was somewhat risky to have a show in Woodlawn. “I grew up in the suburbs, and Woodlawn, to me, was an area of town that I didn’t go in very often,” he says. “It really is a beautiful area of town. As it slowly becomes revitalized, I’m sure there are some other jewels in Woodlawn that I’m completely unaware of. [So] if I didn’t know about Woodrow Hall, I’m sure there are other buildings and other sights to see.”

One of the YWCA’s recently renovated family residences in the area. (click for larger version)



Smiles for Keeps is a dental practice next to Vincent Oliver’s barber shop opened by Mountain Brook dentist Roger Smith and business partner Mary McSpadden in 2006. Their clientele is primarily children on Medicaid, though other insurance is also accepted.

“We did a demographic study of where the greatest need was, and we found that the Woodlawn area had a huge number of children that were having to travel some distance to get dental care,” explains McSpadden.

McSpadden says the clinic also offers care at reduced rates for those without Medicaid. “Even if somebody doesn’t have insurance or if they have insurance and maybe their copays are higher or whatever, our rates are such that it is much more affordable because of the area that we’re in,” she says. McSpadden admits that she and Dr. Smith took a gamble on opening the operation where they did.

“When we came, it was before Woodlawn was cool. Main Street Birmingham was here but really there wasn’t a lot going on,” she says. “Thirty percent of our children are non-Medicaid, 70 percent are Medicaid. And we find that they come from all different zip codes throughout this city.”

The clinic also treats adults whose children are serviced at Smiles for Keeps. McSpadden points out that the clinic is a for-profit venture.

“A lot of businesses that you see that have come into Woodlawn have been not-for-profits. We do believe that it’s helping the city to a large degree by us paying taxes, whereas your not-for-profits don’t.”

Nancy Tran, a real estate broker for Beautiful South Real Estate, says she is excited about what’s happening in the area. “Things are progressing. There’s a lot of activity going on with new businesses and the non-profit groups,” Tran says. She says she believes that the affordable prices for houses in the adjacent Crestwood neighborhood will be a catalyst prompting others to invest in Woodlawn. “As Crestwood continues to grow, that will pull Woodlawn up, too.” &

BJCC Hires Bayer Properties

BJCC Hires Bayer Properties

Company to manage downtown entertainment district.


August 04, 2011

For years, finding an entertainment option after attending a concert or convention at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex meant driving to other areas of the greater Birmingham area. The BJCC board of directors is touting The MarketPlace, a 50,000-square-foot entertainment district currently under construction in the 2300 block of Richard Arrington Boulevard near the BJCC, as a venue that will change that.

On July 20, the BJCC board of directors voted to hire Bayer Properties as its leasing partner for The MarketPlace, which will include restaurants and nightclubs, as well as retail stores. A 300-room Westin Hotel that will be the district’s centerpiece is also under construction, and will be managed by New York–based Starwood Hotels. Bayer, whose projects include The Summit on Highway 280, as well as national ventures, will also be responsible for marketing the $20 million development. “Bayer’s track record for successful developments made it the prime choice,” says Tad Snider, executive director of the BJCC. The deal includes an 18-month contract that pays Bayer $10,000 a month. The company will also receive a percentage of rent from each tenant it signs. The hotel and MarketPlace are scheduled to open in early 2013.

“The successful opening of the entertainment district is directly tied to the leasing partner that is a part of the project,” says Snider. “We feel like with Bayer Properties, we’ve got the best . . . we’ve found a leasing company that has a reputation, a national network of people looking to open businesses. Having Bayer Properties is a great partner to take up the leasing and marketing.”

At the July 20 board meeting, member Gil Wideman relished reminding other board members that Bayer was his first choice two years ago, not John Elkington of Performa Entertainment, who was fired by the BJCC after two years of work (from 2007 to 2009) for failing to secure tenants for an earlier proposed entertainment district in the area. He also reminded members that Bayer had dropped out of the project Performa was working on (called The Forge) because a multipurpose entertainment venue (domed stadium) was not going to be built. “Well, time passes and things change. And I’m delighted to see you all back in the mix,” Wideman told Bayer chief administrative officer David Fields, who was present to answer questions. “You all have been successful. You’ve got some kind of a good formula. I’m all for it . . . my concern here is that we don’t do everything we possibly can to protect the interest of BJCC. Since you all dropped out, we had the misfortune of supporting a tenant that some of us thought would be unable to perform. And unfortunately, he was given the lease anyway. He could not perform and we wound up losing a significant amount of money on a nonperforming tenant. We don’t want to lose any more money.”

Fields stated that Bayer would scrutinize each prospective tenant closely. “We’ll review their financial wherewithal and have a very careful and affirmative and in-depth analysis of them, just like we do as owners of our own properties. We mitigate against that risk by doing our homework,” Fields said. “We’ve been described as a ‘leasing agent.’ And that is not inaccurate, but I’d just like for the board to know that in our view we’re bringing a broader perspective to the table as well because in order to successfully lease this property, it has to be marketed appropriately and designed and laid out in a certain way, and operated in a certain way. And that’s the sort of global input we can provide and that’s the sort of talent that we are bringing to the table to work on this project.”

It appeared to be all Wideman needed to hear to convince him. “Thank you very much because that’s exactly what I wanted to hear from you, and I wanted it on record,” said Wideman.

“We are devoting several principals of the company, myself [included], to come in here and really just go ‘full metal jacket’ on this project,” said Fields. “There are a whole lot of examples of places that open well and there’s a lot of fanfare. But in order to sustain it over time requires delving into a far broader array of complexity so that it does deal with the design; it does deal with the layout; it does deal with the operation . . . and so that’s what we’re bringing to the table.” &

Mr. Barber’s Neighborhood

Mr. Barber’s Neighborhood

Tempers flare as George Barber reveals plans for his mountaintop condominium.

June 02, 2005
Don Erwin of Barber Properties presented former dairy tycoon and current real estate magnate George Barber’s Red Mountain development plan to some 60 residents at the Redmont Park neighborhood meeting May 24. Barber wants to build a six-story condominium and 21 private homes on 15.5 acres at the crest of the mountain. Two-thirds of the audience passionately denounced the proposal, which calls for a construction project estimated at $75 million. The gated community is to be called The Crest on Red Mountain and would be the only such structure standing on Red Mountain.Rumors about Barber’s building plans have swirled around the Redmont community for the past couple of years. “I know some folks thought we were going to build a tall skyscraper that was going to rival Vulcan, but that’s actually not the case,” Erwin told the neighborhood. At the meeting, drawings of the proposed development were viewed for the first time. Afterward, many residents compared the aesthetics of the condominium complex to a prison and others voiced concerns about the impact of an additional 200 cars on their street, as well as the strain on already tenuous sewer and water pressure situations.Erwin said Barber was focused on making the development a unique, attractive place to live. “If we just wanted to do the easy thing, what we could do is do a single-family, cookie-cutter housing development in there and probably do about 35 single-family houses. But that’s not something that we want to do. To us, that would be an example of a less-than-ideal change,” said Erwin. “The truth is that the Redmont Park neighborhood has always been changing . . . change is always going to occur. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it.”Noting that condominiums are vilified because the structures often block residents’ sight-lines of the city, Erwin pointed out that won’t be a problem with The Crest on Red Mountain. “One of the nice features of our project is that our building is right on the crest of the mountain, so we don’t block anybody’s view. By being on the top, there’s no view, that we can find, that’s blocked in any way,” he explained. The condominium units are expected to range from $650,000 to almost $1 million, depending on the square footage. The four 5,000-square-foot penthouses that will comprise the top floor would be about $2.5 million each. The homes are expected to sell for $850,000 on average.

Redmont Park is currently zoned R-1 (single family homes). A change to R-6 (multi-family homes) zoning allows condominium construction, but many residents question why the single-family homes portion of the acreage would need to be rezoned along with the condominium units. Others simply do not want any rezoning at all, preferring that only private homes be in the neighborhood. “My concern is zoning the property at R-6. I’m not convinced that they made the case for why that needs to be,” said Leah Webb, a Redmont resident. “Overall, I think that Mr. Erwin was trying very hard to make the case, but he just didn’t convince me that a [zoning] change had to be made. I don’t see how this is a win-win situation for anyone.”

Warning that the introduction of this condominium on the mountain will invite others to build the same, Redmont resident Bill Mudd predicted, “Sooner or later Vulcan will be a little blip on the skyline . . . Mudd asked Erwin why Barber didn’t build the development downtown, where the developer currently owns one of Birmingham’s more noxious blights, the long-abandoned Sears building on First Avenue North. Erwin responded that not everyone wants to live downtown. “If we’re going to be a viable city, we have to offer all kinds of living arrangements to different kinds of people. We have to offer condominiums in the middle of town. We have to offer lofts for young people; we have to offer single-family houses. We have to offer the whole range,” explained Erwin, who added that a deal was close to being wrapped up regarding the Sears property.

Erwin refused to delay the vote until the next month’s meeting, even though many residents requested a delay so they could have time to review the plans before voting on the project. The final tally from a secret ballot was 42 residents against the project, with 21 in favor. The neighborhood vote is only a recommendation to the Zoning Advisory Committee (ZAC) and is not binding. The ZAC will make a recommendation, and then pass its decision along to the Birmingham City Council, which has the final word. The ZAC will take up the matter on July 5.

Barber currently has two residences in Redmont Park. One has reportedly been abandoned for several years, and neighbors have complained about rats and an overgrown lawn at the site. An irate resident who lives in close proximity to the proposed development acreage angrily complained to Erwin that Barber has not bothered to discuss the project with her. Other neglected Barber properties make her doubt the developer’s intentions. “Now you’re going to build a project and keep your word? I doubt it,” she hissed at Erwin. &


Six Flags Over Birmingham?

Six Flags Over Birmingham?



August 14, 2003

It may be hard to fathom, but In its earliest days Birmingham was an entertainment magnet attracting seekers of frivolity. “Developers were eager to cash in,” explains Regina Ammon, assistant archivist at the Birmingham Public Library, as she previews her August 20 Brown Bag Lunch Series lecture, “Birmingham’s Turn-of-the-Century Resorts” at the downtown library. “It seemed the way developers worked then was that they found some sort of scenic spot and made that the core of the new neighborhood.” As a result, such fancy retreats sparked a population boom, as Birmingham’s resident count jumped from 3,000 in 1880 to more than 26,000 by 1890. Ammon will include an in-depth presentation of 50 slide images as she recounts the glory days when posh resorts dominated Avondale, East Lake, West Lake, and Lakeview Parks.

A turn-of-the-century photograph of of a young girl enjjoying a swim at East Lake Park. This former resort area and others will be discussed at the Birmingham Public Library’s lecture, “Birmingham’s Turn-of-the-Century Lake Resorts,” on August 20.

Today, Highland Golf Course occupies what was once Lakeview Park. By damming up springs in the area, a lake was formed that included an island where operas were staged. The dam is still visible directly behind the water hazard at the top of the course. The resort’s centerpiece was the Lakeview Pavilion, featuring a swimming pool in the basement beneath a dance floor, skating rink, and bowling alley. A 72-room, two-story hotel was built in 1887, and visited by Presidents Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison. Later, the hotel began to lose patrons when visitors started flocking to East Lake Park. It eventually closed and became the Southern Female Institute, which burned to the ground a year later. The pavilion was finally torn down in 1900 to make way for the golf course.

The Lakeview Trolley

East Lake Park’s growing popularity centered around its proud billing as “Dixie’s Most Popular Playground.” A 34-acre lake, originally dubbed Lake Como, was added in 1887. Between the late 1880s and early 1950s, East Lake Park offered a zoo, a hotel, a roller coaster, a miniature railroad, and an amusement ride called the “human roulette wheel,” which featured giant cup-and-saucer seats.

Located on the Bessemer Superhighway, West Lake Park was reportedly an early 1900s gambling mecca. It included the Pineview Resort Beach, which is said to have been as breathtaking as anything along the Gulf Coast. Avondale Park was the site of Birmingham’s first zoo, which included an elephant named Miss Fancy that reportedly escaped from her cage occasionally. Legend has it that Miss Fancy could be found hanging around Avondale School as thrilled children fed her their lunches.

The lecture is free and begins at noon. Call 226-3610 for details. —Ed Reynolds

Once Upon a Bargain

Once Upon a Bargain


Najjar’s Discount Bargain Center was a landmark Birmingham oddity for 41 years. Originally located on 20th Street on Southside before UAB expansion forced a move downtown, the store remained a stubborn curiosity over the next 23 years, selling “out-dated but new” merchandise from as far back as the 1950s. The proprietor, a balding older man of few words, appropriately referred to his odd-ball inventory as “an old-fashioned general store.”

Mr. Najjar passed away three months ago at age 95. The bargain store stands empty now, its high ceiling and hardwood floors full of nothing but dust. In its day, however, Najjar’s Discount Bargain Center was a time-traveler’s dream and a place where bargain-hunters went to find items they forgot they needed: Sylvania Blue Dot flash bulbs, disco-style leisure suits with original price tags, a 98-cent set of stainless steel measuring spoons, Lloyd Bridges “Seahunt” snorkels, zodiac medallions, and unbreakable Hercules pocket combs (guaranteed for life) that sold for 25 cents apiece. If it was your lucky day, he might sell the entire box of black combs for a quarter. Najjar never used a calculator; instead he licked a pencil as he tallied purchases on paper.

The son of a Lebanese immigrant peddler, Najjar dropped out of school after the third grade to work in his father’s store in Marietta, Georgia, and the “working man” ethic came to define his life. Najjar diligently labored for his father until the morning he picked up a newspaper while returning from his honeymoon to read that downtown Marietta and the family store had burned to the ground. “They didn’t believe in insurance,” remembers Najjar’s son, retired Circuit Judge Charles Najjar. “From relatively successful people, [suddenly] they were broke again.”

Najjar sought any work available. After establishing a successful ice cream sales route in rural north Georgia, he moved to Birmingham, where he became president of the 7-Up Bottling Company. He eventually opened a successful bargain store in Fairfield, which he sold before moving to downtown Birmingham. “He ran his store literally until he died . . . ate at John’s [Restaurant] everyday,” says his son. “He worked awfully hard. They were not people of means, but they were people of discipline.”