Child's play: Retro museum and concert hall drawing big crowds

When Angie Johnson was growing up in Covington, her weekly routine invariably included an antiquing trip with her mother.

"When I was a child, my mother wanted to go to antique shops every Saturday," recalled Johnson, whose mother, Ann Hodges, was a longtime employee at Newton Federal Bank. "My dad never wanted to go, so he sent me instead. While my friends were spending all their allowance money at the mall, I was spending mine in antique shops."

There was a method to Johnson's long-ago madness as she amassed a serious collection of vintage toys, metal lunchboxes and other nostalgic items.

"I bought kids things," she quipped. "And now that I've grown up, it's considered a vintage toy collection and it seems to appeal to all ages."

It seemed almost criminal to keep all these retro goodies from the public, so Johnson and her husband Jeff established the BB Fuzz Concert Hall and I Spy Museum, located in the Cotton Warehouse next to the Porterdale Mill Lofts in Porterdale.

The Johnsons opened their museum in early September and have seen the stream of visitors pick up almost from the beginning.

"It started out slow but it's growing now," she said. "We've been getting busier all the time and we've been at our busiest recently."

There are 10 different stops in the museum, and Johnson said that's because each display is set away from the next one, "You never know what's next around the corner." At each stop, there are items hidden for patrons to try and locate while they're enjoying their museum visit. There are three levels of hidden items, so a trip to the museum is something every member of the family can enjoy, she said.

"It's a game and a museum all in one," Johnson said. "Adults really like nostalgia and we've got plenty of that here."

Johnson added that due to the vast number of items she's collected over the years, she can make changes in the museum every three months to keep it fresh for regular visitors.

"We change the games every week," she said. "There's always something different to look for. I take turns with changing the items out — this is something I knew I wanted to do since I was 14 years old. I can't believe I'm actually getting to do it."

The concert hall and museum is just part of a family-friendly kaleidoscope of activities the Johnsons, both Covington natives, have created.

Jeff Johnson, who attended the University of Georgia on a music scholarship and played the trumpet in the award-winning Georgia Red Coat Marching Band, takes care of the music end of the business, hosting performances (for birthdays and other events) in the concert hall as well as taking his show on the road to libraries, schools and churches. He's also released five CDs.

Among the activities Jeff hosts is "Real Rock Band," in which patrons get to try their hand at real guitars, keyboards and drums. There are also plenty of art and music classes and camps, including the monthly "Fun Zone," where for $35, visitors (from age 5 to 12) can enjoy a day of music and art activities. Jeff's concerts are often punctuated with visits from BB Fuzz, a wooly character who, like Jeff, has an abundant sense of humor.

In addition to her duties at the museum, Angie teaches art and music at Providence Christian School in Oxford and is a also a homeschool teacher. She attended Ficquett Elementary, Sharp Middle and Newton High schools and earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgia Southern University.

Jeff Johnson, who also went to Ficquett, Sharp and NHS, was a music teacher at East Newton Elementary and holds degrees from UGA and Piedmont College. He was named Newton County's Teacher of the Year in 2003 and also serves as elementary and pre-teen worship leader at First Baptist Conyers.

The couple has two children, Kaitie, 12, and Buddy, 4.

At the present time, the I Spy Museum is open from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. The museum is also open for bigger groups by appointment.

For more information on the BB Fuzz Concert Hall and I Spy Museum, call 678-342-9316 or visit www.bbfuzz.com.