The Sandwich King [in the Corridor]

By Mollie Davis

Owner of Sid’s Soup, Salad, and Sandwich shop, Bob Berg has fed thousands of locals and visitors during his 30-plus years as a restaurant owner, getting to know folks from all walks of life who enjoy eating with friends and reminiscing over the pictures, antiques and collectibles hanging in his breakfast and lunch eatery.

After graduating from Georgia Southwestern in the late 1970s, Bob came to Macon looking for work and moved into the Macon Health Club dormitory downtown. After living there for a few months, he was hired as a manager to help the struggling gym boost its membership. Then called the “Macon Health Center,” Bob knew his first order of business was changing their name, as employees constantly answered calls from people who mistook the gym for a doctors’ office.

Bob Berg, owner of Sid's, with one of the restaurant's many antiques

Bob Berg, owner of Sid’s, with one of the restaurant’s many antiques

With little management experience, Bob thrived at the Health Club and came to see the gym floor as the melting pot for people from all walks of life. The dormitories were teeming with young people and those down on their luck, looking for a fresh start and a temporary place to stay. Macon socialites and business owners also frequented the Health Club, and Bob recalled that folks like the chairman of Charter Medical worked out alongside those who could only afford their rent week-to-week. He explained the friendly community between business professionals and downtown “characters,” like the member who always worked out while walking on his hands. Later Bob found that this “hand-walker” was Oscar Bradley, featured in Guinness Book of World Records for once performing a handstand jump over a rope 27 inches high!

“It was a diverse group of people, for sure. But they came together,” Bob remembered, saying that his days at the Macon Health Club really opened his eyes to the community in Macon.

After working at the gym for three years, Bob took a leap of faith and opened his first Sid’s Soup, Salad, and Sandwiches shop at 336 Second Street. The brick building, just blocks away from the Health Club, was where Macon’s own and world famous poet Sidney Lanier once practiced law. Named in his honor, Sid’s opened its doors in 1981 to serving downtown Maconites breakfast and lunch. For 33 years the shop was a pillar among downtown businesses, and the spot where Bob met his wife and his three sons worked their first job.

In 1984, the second Sid’s restaurant opened its doors. Formerly the Macon Varsity where Gregg Allman and his friends liked to eat, the Sid’s Forsyth location now is one of the Corridor’s favorite sandwich shops, complete with a warm fire in the hearth and a roadside marquee with a sense of humor. Though he admitted that the quirky sayings aren’t always original, Bob hopes they make someone’s day a little brighter. After all, his shop is about much more than sandwiches. For example, in March last year, Bob and employees at Sid’s organized the “Varsity Cruise In,” a car show that heralded to the days of the Varsity in the 1960s, filling the Sid’s parking lot with American muscle cars, restored classics, and collectibles from the Jones County Cruisers.  The event raised funds for a former employee who had been paralyzed in a car accident in 2012, and Bob hopes it will be a recurring event during the Cherry Blossom festival each spring.

It isn’t just the soups, salads and sandwiches that make Sid’s so special. Neatly lined up near the fireplace are the original booths from the Roy G. Williams drug store from downtown.

Opposite from them is a Coke machine near the counter, a prized possession, purchased for just $40 off the porch of a house on Second Street. An iced tea canister from a restaurant on Grey Highway was dropped off one day when the owner just carried it inside, explaining that he’d love for Bob to display it at Sid’s along with this other collectibles.

Many of the collectibles and antiques found in the restaurant were donated from customers and friends

Many of the collectibles and antiques found in the restaurant were donated from customers and friends

An employee donated her trombone to make an ode to Macon’s music history. Similarly, Bob has come to own pictures of cadets at Camp Wheeler in 1943 and class photos from Lanier High School in 1924. The black and whites are snapshots of a Central Georgia from a different era. Bob can point out a customer’s great aunt, or a regular’s cousin, among the line-up of faces in each photo. The whole restaurant has the feel of a walk-in time capsule, and Bob makes for a great tour guide along the way. As Macon continues to grow and change, Sid’s remains an anchor in the Corridor, collecting memories and snapshots of the community for all those who come to love Macon.

 

 

 

Mermaids and More [in the Corridor]: Meet Lee Martin

By Mollie Davis

Crowded with fine pool and Ping-Pong tables, retro slot machines, and embellished lamps and light fixtures, Poolsharks and Mermaids definitely lives up to the quirkiness of its name. The walls are covered in vintage tin signs and neon lights, touting the classic brand name gaming equipment regularly stocked. One of the few Olhausen retailers in Georgia, owner Lee Martin is proud to carry the historic American-made tables and supplies, as well as his impressive collection of mermaid memorabilia.  But the real treasure here is Martin himself, a third generation business owner, Macon native and College Hill Corridor entrepreneur.

Lee Martin

The people of Macon have turned to the Martin family for their entertainment needs for almost a century. In the early 1900s, his grandfather C.I. Martin got his start as a travelling salesman supplying downtown watering-holes with slot machines and coin-operated games. Today, four generations of gaming specialists, master tinkerers, and collectors have passed along the family practice, and now Lee Martin and his son are carrying on their legacy with their business located in the heart of the College Hill Corridor.

While attending college at Mercer University in the 1960s, Martin and Phil Walden, music industry legend and Macon native, were roommates and good friends. With excited remembrance, Martin described their above-garage apartment and the flat black painted walls. The two windows at the top and bottom of the landing stairs Walden painted like stained glass, Martin recalled, so that a myriad of colors and shapes outlined in thick black paint shown in the sun. “Phil was a truly talented artist in so many ways,” he reminisced. From the outside, desk lamps placed on the handrail illuminated the glass at night and poured color into their apartment, giving their humble man-cave the ambience of a cathedral.

The “Sin Den Inn,” as they dubbed it, often also housed their friend and Walden’s business partner, Otis Redding, who would crash on the sofa after a night playing at fraternity parties or local venues downtown. Martin’s father owned a vacant farmhouse in Monroe County where the three friends would throw house parties with Johnny Jenkins & the Pine Toppers. Martin recalled that Redding and Walden were inseparable. “Otis was a very special talent, who just can’t be replaced,” recalled Martin, looking into the distance. “He and Phil were the closest friends.”

After finishing his education at Mercer, Lee Martin went to work with his dad, eventually purchasing their Hardeman Avenue building in 1976. Then called Martin Amusement, the building was filled with coin-operated arcade machines until 1998 when they transitioned into a retail business specializing in pool tables and supplies. Since then Martin has welcomed gaming enthusiasts from all over the Southeast who seek out his wide selection of Olhousen pool tables or his expert restoration skills with vintage and collectible machines. The back storeroom of his one-story building is stocked full of miscellaneous coils, plugs, caps and other bits of equipment as well as projects in the process of restoration. Here faded paints return to their original luster and rusted parts are made like new, and each historic piece finds new life in Martin’s workshop.

Like the machines that he brings back to life, Martin has worked with equal diligence to improve the Macon community his family has called home for so many generations. From his tucked away spot on one of Macon’s main roadways, he often grimaced watching vehicle pile-ups at the intersection of Hardeman and Monroe Street. The busy intersection was once one of the most dangerous in Macon, and Martin took it upon himself to find a way to fix the problem. “Macon has the highest pedestrian death rate in the state of Georgia, higher than Atlanta, per capita, and people need to know,” he states bleakly.

Martin has always been attached to Macon, and has taken a personal stake in community efforts to increase safety by attending community forums and meetings and corresponding regularly with state and local officials. A transportation activist for 15 years and co-founder of CAUTION Macon (Citizens Against Unnecessary Thoroughfares in Our Neighborhoods) Martin has a vision of a safer, more walkable Corridor and downtown. As drivers whiz by his storefront at speeds over 50 MPH, just outside downtown Macon, Martin recognizes dangers to people walking from home, school, or around town. “Our streets are built for speed, not for pedestrians.”

In the early 2000s Martin seized an opportunity to improve the safety near his business by lobbying for the traffic light at Hardeman and Monroe, going as far as to offer to pay for its installation himself. Since it was installed, he’s noticed dramatically fewer accidents and more efficient traffic flow in the area and is optimistic about new ideas for increasing pedestrian safety throughout the Corridor.

Delighted about the new Lofts at College project coming in behind the post office, Martin is especially hoping to see more people walking out and about in the area. In addition, he’s sure the retail and housing options will force traffic to slow down on Forsyth, making the area safer to those who walk to work or school. Until then, you can probably find him emailing and meeting with city leaders to improve the walkability of the Corridor or buried away in the back room tinkering on a pinball machine or a rare jukebox. He seems content to share his story when asked, or just to pick persimmons in the parking lot and continue his family’s work with gaming machines. So whether you’re in the market for a new pool table or just hungry for a good story, it’s worth slowing by on Hardeman and pulling in at Pool Sharks & Mermaids, a proud longtime business in the College Hill Corridor.

Calling all Makers: Be a part of the Macon Makers Movement!

College Hill is calling all makers! Haven’t heard the news? Check out the press release below:

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The College Hill Alliance launched an open call for people in Macon to join the “Maker Movement,” a growing national network of artisans, craftsmen, small business entrepreneurs and innovators building new, locally-driven economies. Through a survey found on maconmaker.com, the Alliance is collecting the stories of makers who live and work inside Macon. 

 MaconMakers.com
“Makers are an exciting bunch of people. They are our small business leaders, our artists, our risk-takers. They are driving innovation and, increasingly, the American economy,” said Heather Holder, executive director of the College Hill Alliance. “We know these same types of people are here, thriving, in Macon. We see it every day, in the Corridor and Downtown. It’s time we joined this national movement.” 
 
The Maker Movement is the approximately 135 million adults – 57 percent of the American population ages 18 and up – who employ their creative skills in craft activities, such as making clothing, jewelry, baked goods or art. Financial estimates show that these “makers” push $29 billion into the economy each year. Examples of makers range from computer programmers to wood workers and run the gamut of arts and crafts to engineering and technology. 
 
Makers in Macon are invited to take the online survey about their product and business ideas and share their contact information for opportunities to promote their craft. They can also call the College Hill Alliance office at 478.301.2008 and request a survey. 
 
The College Hill Alliance is seeking Macon Makers as part of its expanded focus to boost entrepreneurship and attract homegrown businesses to Macon’s Downtown and College Hill Corridor. The call for Macon Makers is open from now until early December. Makers gathered from the survey will be highlighted across social media and web platforms through the holiday giving season. A meeting of Macon Makers will be held in early 2014.

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Planting Deep Roots in the Corridor: Meet Eric & Greta O’Dell

By Mollie Davis

Though neither are Macon natives, the O’Dells have planted deep roots in the community surrounding their historic home in the Huguenin Heights Neighborhood. In the fall of 1988, Eric arrived for the first time in Macon as a freshman studying art at Mercer University. It seems his studying paid off, as he was recently appointed full time professor of fine art and displays a myriad of original works at his art gallery downtown, Liberty Studios. As we talked about campus improvements, he quickly pointed out how much the area has changed since his time in undergrad. Nearly all the campus buildings have been remodeled or repurposed, including the Sherwood hall he lived on for three straight years. As he grew up moving often, Eric admitted his time in Sherwood was the longest he had ever lived in a single place.O'Dell Family

“Mercer Village was just a gas station where we could buy cheap cigarettes,” he remembers, laughing, “and now there’s actually a stadium on Stadium Drive!”

Eric met his wife Greta in her hometown of Panama City Beach, Florida, and the couple moved to Macon in 1997. At the time, their house on Lawton Avenue was not the welcoming home it is today, in fact, pictures of the original house show that the O’Dells signed up for quite the remodeling project. The couple was intimately involved in each aspect of the renovation process, from designing their dream home with refinished fireplaces, converting closets into walkways, and personally installing plumbing and electricity into the converted attic space their daughters now use as bedrooms. Eric, Greta, and a team of their friends planted a Bradford Pear in 1998 to christen their new Macon home.  Overall, the remodeling project was so extensive (and so successful) that the Macon Telegraph featured stories throughout the year to highlight the transformation!

“It was our first home, and we weren’t looking for a traditional, cookie cutter type of home,” Greta remembers. Eric envisioned walking to Mercer to teach everyday, enjoying nearby Tattnall Square Park with his children, and taking in the sights and sounds of downtown where he hoped to establish an art gallery. Making their mark on this historic home was just the first step in realizing their dream.

Many neighbors shared the O’Dell’s optimistic vision for the community. After their home was remodeled, several more houses in the Huguenin Heights community underwent reconstruction, and enthusiasm swept through the neighborhood. This passion for revitalization was contagious; after years of seeing individuals take small steps toward community revitalization, a group of Mercer students presented their senior capstone project, which became the College Hill Corridor, to an InTown board meeting in 2007. As a member of the board, Greta remembers the students’ initial presentation and being excited for what their project could become, but both her and Eric are truly amazed at the community’s progress so far.O'Dell House

“This community has developed and matured beyond our hopes,” Eric admitted. “We thought we saw potential for growth when we decided to move here, but we are amazed today at how far we’ve come.”

Today the O’Dells and their two daughters, Elizabeth, 14, and Helen, 11, take full advantage of the blossoming community around them. Eric walks to his office on Mercer’s campus, out to the Village for lunch, and often treats the girls to dinner downtown near his art studio on Mulberry Street. Greta, who works with the River Edge Behavioral Health Center, still serves on the InTown Macon board and keeps the family involved with their favorite events throughout the community and in their local church, First Baptist of Macon.

The Bradford pear Eric and Greta planted their first summer living in Macon, over 15 years ago, now shades their porch and stands nearly as tall as their historic home. The O’Dell family, which has similarly rooted themselves deep in the Macon soil, has certainly flourished at their historic home in the Corridor.

A Heritage of Service in the Corridor

by Mollie Davis

The Cassidy family has deep ties to their Macon home, and for three generations a Dr. James Cassidy has been treating and caring for the mouths of community members at the Cassidy Dental practice on College Street. Most recently, Dr. James Cassidy III relocated to the Corridor to join the family business and continue their legacyImage of service.

This particular Dr. Cassidy (James III) sat across from me in his office as we chatted about his recent move back to Macon after leaving for college and eventually on to dental school. When we spoke, it was just his third day on the job at his father’s dentist practice on College Street, Cassidy Dental, and his office was all but bare, except for a Mercer football helmet autographed by Coach Bobby Lamb and an abstract painting of downtown Macon’s original Nu-Way Weiners.

“It was probably the thing I missed most, Nu-Way Weiners,” he explained to me with a laugh. “I always got a hot dog when I came back home to visit, now that I live here I’ll have to limit myself.”

After growing up in Macon and graduating from Mount   De Sales High School, Cassidy moved on to Georgia College and State University to pursue a science degree. He enjoyed living in Milledgeville and taking advantage of the community’s bike-ability and college-town feel. But after his graduation and four years in Augusta studying dentistry, Cassidy decided it was finally time to come home.

“What I love most about the College Hill are the events like Second Sunday and the Soap Box Derby. And I love Mercer Village!” he explained. A lot has changed since he last lived in the Macon area, and he is excited to be back again to witness more changes and improvements to come.

Cassidy is also happy to find that Mercer Village and all the attractions downtown are easily accessible on his bicycle from his new apartment at the Washington Commons on the corner of Hardeman and College Street. His mother, Wendy Cassidy, recently remodeled the historic building for office space and rental property, and was pleased to see her son move in as one of the first tenants. When the weather’s nice he says he’s happy to ride his bike to work, out to lunch for a Nu-Way Weiner, and then hit the town at night, content not to use his car all day long. “I’ve never been more excited to for downtown Macon than now,” he admitted, saying he was especially excited for the new Macon Beer Company Oglethorpe, though that might be a long bike ride back to his apartment.

Dr. Cassidy certainly is making himself at home again in the Corridor, and his father could not seem happier to have him back. As we stood on College Street facing the Cassidy practice, which Dr. James Cassidy, Sr. opened in 1954, Dr. Cassidy Jr. shared with me his fondness of Macon and the family practice three generations of Cassidy men have helped to build.

“Anyone can put in a filling or clean teeth, but being there when your patients need you— that’s service,” remarked Dr. Cassidy, Jr.

Being rooted in the same community for so long, the professionals at Cassidy Dental have cleaned and fixed the teeth of local families for decades, once even having five generations of a family in the office at the same time! It’s this kind of long-term, personal care, a “heritage of service” as Dr. Cassidy, Jr. proudly calls it, which has established a name for three generations of Dr. Cassidys here in the Corridor.