Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
November 13, 2009
It's not everyone that needs a 10-foot ceramic rooster, but it's nice to know you can find one in a pinch.
The phenomenal fowl is the iconic image at Barberville Produce, a two-acre menagerie of oddities in wrought-iron that renders such a humble name inadequate.
Standing at the corner of U.S. Highway 17 and State Road 40, along one of Central Florida's most traveled rural roadways, the stand does stock peanuts and honey, but it's bizarre big ticket items that have kept it in business for almost 20 years.
Cast-aluminum Clydesdales, buffalo, bears, lions and alligators are silent sentries in the dirt, as if it's like its the boarding area for Noah's Ark. They beckon drivers to stop and maybe buy a giant street lamp, scale-model of the Statue of Liberty or some other kitschy collectible that would qualify as the ultimate impulse purchase.
"I hear there's a recession going on," says owner David Biggers, 67, with a chuckle. "You gotta change with the times and the big-ticket is kind of hit-or-miss, but we pretty much stick with the big ticket."
That rooster, by the way, runs about $2,300. Do people actually buy that?
"There's a lot of chicken restaurants out there," Biggers points out. Likewise, Barberville Produce also manages to find customers that are as unique as its merchandise.
In recent years, the City of Sanford bought at least 80 decorative street lamps, about $80,000 worth, to adorn its downtown historic district. On that shopping trip, officials noticed an assortment of holiday lights and reindeer, so the city bought those, too.
Biggers estimates that only 1 percent of his customers are locals. The rest are travelers that can't help but notice that big rooster at one of the most-traveled rural roadways in Florida. State Road 40 is the connector between Interstate 75 and I- 95. It's also well-traveled by folks headed from Central Florida to Gainesville, through the Ocala National Forest, and by folks headed from Ocala to Ormond Beach.
In a world of malls and McDonald's, folks are looking for something unique, something from the little guy," says Biggers, who keeps the stand open 365 days a year..
"You gotta be creative in this world or starve to death," he says. "You have to use your gift."
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