Kitsch & Carry: Need a giant metal rooster? Come to Barberville Roadside
By TOM IACUZIO, June 21, 2011 12:05 AM
At the corner of U.S. Highway 17 and State Road 40 in Barberville, giant chickens mingle with toothy dinosaurs while a massive giraffe stands guard over a market full of twisted metal and fresh produce. You might think this is a plot to some whacked-out B-movie from the 1950s, but it’s actually just another day for Carlos Pendola, the owner of Barberville Roadside.
For more than 20 years, the roadside attraction has been selling the rare and unusual. Originally opened by David Biggers in 1990, the shop was sold to Pendola, a former Miami car dealer, eight months ago.
“The car business was a lot of pressure and very fast and complicated,” said Pendola, standing among an army of cast iron horses, dragons, tigers and chickens. “Cars today have a light and a sensor for everything. None of these have one.”
Though his new career is much more laid back than the car business, Pendola still endured some growing pains. He remembers going to a wholesale show with Biggers who tried to dissuade him from buying a cache of watches.
“He said, ‘Carlos, don’t buy that.’ But I did anyway,” he said. “I bought like 200 watches and I think I sold one. He was right. People come here for the unique. Not something you can buy in Kmart.”
Since then, Pendola has stuck to the shop’s four basics: produce, handmade recycled metal art, furniture and Mexican Talavera, a hand-painted type of pottery.
“If you can find two pieces that are the exact same, I’ll give you the whole shop for free,” jokes Pendola, who lives a half mile away from the shop. “You can put 10 of them together and you won’t find any two that are the same.”
But the bread and butter for the Barberville establishment is still the unique pieces of metalwork. And don’t worry, Pendola won’t mind if you call it junk.
“It was junk somewhere at some point. Some of these things even still have labels on them,” said Pendola, pointing out a crafted alligator with a Texaco label across its belly. “Even these fountains are all recycled metal. Now, this fountain costs $5,000 and change. But you can call it junk. I don’t get offended.”
“Someone might say something in here is expensive but compared to what?” asks Pendola.
What keeps the customers buying the odd items isn’t necessity, says Pendola, it’s desire and emotion.
“You can spend the rest of your life without any of this, I assure you. You don’t need a giant chicken,” he said. “You might ask who might buy a giant chicken? I can tell you of someone that bought three.”
And while 67-year-old Barbara Harrison of DeLand wasn’t in the market for a giant chicken, she found herself drawn in by it just the same.
“It’s hard to drive by this place and not stop,” said Harrison who was visiting with her husband, James. “It certainly sticks out.”
It’s that kind of reaction that keeps Pendola from spending any money on advertising. “Our storefront is advertising,” he said.
But even with all the big-ticket items out on the roadside, Pendola says he’s had no issues with theft. In fact, he says there may be an upside to it, referring to an incident that occurred under the previous owner.
“He had something stolen from him once. He called the police and it was on the news. It wound up being an advertisement for him,” Pendola explained. “People would come in and say ‘Is this the place where they stole the big chicken?’ ”
That’s just one of the aspects of the business Pendola hopes to continue with the 22-year-old establishment.
“I don’t want to do many changes,” he said. “I want to preserve this the way it is.”
And as he continues to sell dreams to his customers, Pendola says he has a few of his own.
“I hope that I can develop this business into something my son and daughter in the future, if they want to, can take over,” said Pendola. “That’s my dream.”