Local artists working to restore Garner Drive-In sign

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

By Haley Schichtl

CCNNews@cox-internet.com

The Garner Drive-In sign is getting a fresh new look, thanks to a pair of talented artists, a fan of local history and some generous donors.

Local businessman Keith Rivera started a GoFund me account to raise money to have the sign restored. He also enlisted the help of local artists James Abbott and Randy Rust, who have worked on restoring several murals around the Berryville Square.

While the mural restorations have been sponsored by the Berryville Community Restoration Project, the Garner sign is not.

“The restoration project has been doing the murals all over town for the past few years, and they use contributions from the public,” Rivera said. “They had decided... not to do Garner’s, though people showed interest in it, mainly because it is a private business and they were worried about potential conflicts.”

Rivera said the GoFundMe has raised about $1,400, with a goal of $5,000. There is also a collection jar at Garner’s.

“All the donations go directly to James Abbott and Randy Rust,” Rivera said. “They handle all the withdrawals and stuff. The goal of the funds is simply to pay their costs for the sign; there’s no profit.”

“It’s hard to determine exactly what the price will be, but [Rivera] said if we raise more than we need for this project, we’ll put the money towards another project,” Abbott said.

Although Garner Drive-In is a private business, the building has one of the longest histories in Berryville. When it was built in 1957, the building originally held a Dari-Delite, according to one of the current owners, Charlene Elkins. The business was then bought by the Coffee family, who made it the Coffee Drive-In, until the Garners bought it in 1972.

Elkins is one of five children of the original owners, Charlie and Frances Garner. Elkins said she has worked at the restaurant off and on since her parents bought it. She now owns the building along with her siblings.

“We’ve been there 48 years, and we’ve redone [the sign] once in the past,” Elkins said.

Elkins said it’s been great to work in Berryville.

“It’s just like working with your friends,” Elkins said. “We get tourists sometimes and it’s always fun to find out where people are from.”

Rivera mentioned that the old embossed “Dari-Delite” letters and ice cream cone can still be seen underneath the “Garner Drive-In.”

On the GoFundMe page, Rivera talks a bit about the artists, who are both in their early 70s.

“These two gentlemen have been showing all us younger generations how hard work is done,” Rivera says. “We are very blessed to have such talented artists like James and Randy who care about improving our community, preserving history, and building bonds that last lifetimes.”

Rust has lived in Berryville for about 33 years, and Abbott for 42. Abbott has operated his own business, Abbott Signs, for nearly 40 years in Berryville. Abbott said Rivera is an old customer of his, and he contacted Abbott to see if he would be interested in doing the restoration.

“He just recently moved back to Berryville two or three years ago, and he has taken a lot of pride in the community,” Abbott said.

Abbott said he created a design, trying to keep it mostly the same as the original for nostalgia’s sake, but wanted to move the words to the top. He said the person that painted the Garner sign followed the way the Dari-Delite sign was, with the ice cream cone on top and words on bottom.

“Then, they put a roof over the awning because they had trouble with the flat roof leaking a lot. Now, when you’re leaving the square going north, you don’t see ‘Garner’ until you’re right in front of the building,” Abbott said. “So I recommended putting ‘Garner’ at the top.”

Abbott said if they raise enough money, they might also be able to put neon back in the sign.

“Garner’s is an icon that’s been here for decades. It’s almost as old as I am,” Abbott said. “We’re hopeful that the community gets behind it like they have all these other mural projects. They started contributing almost immediately after Keith put the GoFundMe up.”

Abbott said the community should think about what they would like to see done in Berryville next in case there’s leftover money.

“Restaurants have the highest turnover rate of businesses in the United States. Having a restaurant stay in business since the ‘50s is pretty impressive,” Rivera said. “Without paying homage to history, people forget history, so I think it’s important to save it while we have the chance. ... And these restoration projects are drawing people into Berryville from all over the state.”

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