Storied antiques: Shop offers time capsule to county's past

CONYERS - The names of people roll off of Jerry Moon's tongue as if he had just visited them - Carl Sanders, Billy Farmer and Floyd Perkle.

They are all men who operated country stores just like Moon's father, Millard, did back in the 1950s and '60s. The only exception is that Moon has kept his father's store open as the Country Store Antiques on Ga. Highway 20 North. And though he doesn't sell groceries and gasoline there anymore, Moon still rings up purchases on the hand-cranked cash register his father used in the store.

The store is like others that once dotted crossroads in Rockdale County and hearken back to a different time.

Today, Moon sells antiques and collectibles that he has gathered through estate sales, yard sales and, on occasion, some good old-fashioned horse trading. The store contains a wide array of items that Moon said he acquired not based on some marketing plan, but simply because he found the stuff interesting.

And if the visual of Coca-Cola signs, wooden Indians, movie posters, gas station signs and Milstead Village memorabilia does not take your breath away, Moon's rapid fire sales pitch will. His delivery of facts and stories on almost each item makes him a walking catalog for his store.

"I'm like Sears and Roebuck here. I have different departments," said Moon in his store as he proudly shows off a room filled with old farming equipment.

He demonstrates an old fashioned corn grinder to show that it still works.

"This is from George Washington's farm ... allegedly," he said with a wink.

Moon moves quickly as he looks down at a stone wheel, positioned vertically and attached to a foot pedal. He advised, "Well, to be honest I don't know exactly what this does."

A moment later Moon heads outside to the display of flags in front of the store and to the "boiled peanuts and fire wood" department. For $3, patrons can enjoy a bag of peanuts boiled in a beer keg converted by Moon.

Moon is a proud product of Rockdale County and the Milstead Village. His family has lived here for seven generations and the land where the store sits is what's left of a family farm his grandfather and then his father worked while also working a shift at the Callaway Mill.

Moon said his father worked at the mill for many years, but when it closed in 1960 Millard Moon opened his gas station and country store. The first store was a small, wood frame building and still stands on a hill behind the current store, a cinder block building constructed as the business expanded.

When his father retired, Moon, who worked for AT&T and Johnson Controls, took over the business permit and converted the store from groceries to antiques. Now 65 years old, Moon works as a manager of the store that is owned by his daughter, Audra Moon-Eubanks, who lives in Oxford.

Among the old spools and other tools from the old mill, Moon has photos of the Callaway Mill and Milstead Village buildings. Some of those buildings still stand, some are missing a second or third story and others are simply gone, Moon said.

Each photo has a story that Moon has no problem recalling for patrons of his antiques store.

In one picture, the Dinky train engine moves along the Yellow River to the train depot in Conyers, explained Moon, who even knows the train engineer's name - Ruel Barnett. In the photo, Barnett is standing in the cab of the Dinky wearing overalls, a traditional train engineer's hat and a look of having a long day's work behind him.

Another photo depicts the company's gymnasium that used to be next to the Milstead pool. Moon points to a barber shop in the picture that used to be located in the gym and immediately that subject leads him to a new topic - metal and porcelain Coca-Cola signs.

"See that sign with the Coca-Cola buttons?" said Moon, alluding to the familiar red circle signs with the trademark Coke bottles and script. "Those are just like the ones I have here."

He has a large collection of Coca-Cola signs with some dating back to the 1920s. He explained that the porcelain signs are worth more than the painted metal ones because that's how they were made early on. A porcelain Coca-Cola sign in mint condition can command $800 and up. Moon has a few of the signs that are newer but have the vintage look - dinged and weathered - that sell for half as much.

As Moon tells it, he has seen Rockdale change from farmland to mill town to today's suburban community.

The mill dominated life in Conyers for many years, said Moon. When it closed it was a shock to the local economy as people, like Moon's father, had to find new ways to earn a living.

Moon said that, in other ways, the mill held the community back, and when it left Rockdale County the city of Conyers had to diversify and attract new businesses.

"For many years, the mill kept other business out and that was just the way it was," he said. "Then the mill closed, the interstate came and everything exploded."

A walk into Moon's store can seem to last hours because there is so much to take in. He said he doesn't mind people coming by and just looking because there's a pretty good chance of them coming back.

"I tell people who visit to come back, stay longer and spend more," Moon said. "And maybe I'll let you talk some."

Country Store Antiques is located at 2075 Ga. Highway 20 N. and can be reached at 770-480-9919. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.