Iolan baffled by signs’ origin

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

Register/Bob Johnson
Johnny Womack found these advertising signs after they had been used for years as roofing for an Iola garage.

Where was Midget Lunch, J.R. Gardner Grocery and Meats and the Checker Board Cafe?
Johnny Womack would like to know.
He has Coca-Cola signs that once hung prominently on the fronts of buildings selling the beverage. One of the signs is dated 1933.
Womack first saw the signs after he noticed one face-down on the roof of a rickety garage in Iola. When he removed it, he found more, advertising Coca-Cola and Hires Root Beer.
The Iola Coca-Cola Bottling Co. plant was at 204 N. Washington Ave. Many other towns, including Cha-nute, Fort Scott, Ottawa and Parsons, also had Coke bottling plants.
Route salesmen, decked out in bright Coca-Cola uniforms, provided their customers with the signs, complete with a space, usually at the top, for the business name to be stenciled in. The large, gaily painted tin advertising signs were a common sight on groceries and restaurants in the past.
The signs Womack found are not in the best condition. Years of being exposed to the weather plus condensation on the painted sides have taken a toll.
“I imagine the signs were on buildings fairly close to Iola, if not in town,” Womack said.
Iola had about 45 neighborhood groceries in the 1930s plus several large markets downtown. The city also had many restaurants and cafes, some not much larger than the proverbial phone booth.
From conversations he has had with longtime Iolans, none of the business names on the signs has struck a chord, which leads Womack to think they were in another town.
Advertising signs were also sometimes signed by whomever painted them. The one Womack has that’s dated 1933 was initialed by the artist, A.A.W.