By RICK MINTER
It’s an old-fashioned mom-and-pop parts store run by Waymon and Shirley Brownlee, who offer service like that found in the old country stores of a bygone era.
Their store, now in its 29th year, has a homey feel. The Brownlees’ main focus is selling parts, but they also have raised grandchildren and cared for elderly parents under the same roof.
Customers arriving around lunchtime are likely to find the owners sitting at a card table behind the counter eating tomato sandwiches. In the winter, a wood stove helps knock off the chill. Wooden parts bins, built years ago by Waymon Brownlee, are worn smooth from years of contact with customers’ hands. The bins on the shelves are marked with part numbers hand written by the proprietors.
There’s no computer to keep track of inventory and no Web site to attract new customers. But folks find them anyway, some from as far away as Australia and Canada, almost all from word-of-mouth advertising.
“We do everything the old-fashioned way,” Shirley Brownlee said. “I change money out of a drawer. It’s a simple way that people are used to
“If I had a Web site I could do more, but we’re surviving. We don’t expect to get rich overnight. We just enjoy what we do.”
The Brownlees got into the antique auto parts business mostly because of Shirley Brownlee’s entrepreneural spirit and because she got bored attending car shows with her husband.
“I was sitting out there in the hot sun and getting baked,” she said. “I thought, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’ve got to have something to do besides sitting here.’ So I got me a card table, and Waymon gave me his old parts that he bought from old Western Auto Stores and I started selling them.”
She sold her first parts at a car show in Stone Mountain, but it wasn’t as profitable as it might have been.
“I sold a few pieces that I could have gotten a lot more for if I’d known what I was doing,” she said. “But I caught on. The customers were great about helping me.”
Waymon Brownlee, who spent most of his working career in the grading business, has always been a fan of Fords and Mercurys — mostly Mercurys — that were made from 1946 to 1948. His knowledge of those cars led to him being selected as a national chief judge for the Early Ford V8 Club of America.
“Ever since I was a kid I always liked those cars,” he said. “The first car I ever bought was a ‘40 Ford coupe. I didn’t even have a driver’s license.
“The second one, I was working for my granddaddy hauling coal. I was delivering coal up on Highway 124 and in front of a building sat a Mercury coupe.
“I wound up buying it. I rebuilt the motor, kept it a while and sold it.”
It’s the look of the Mercurys as much as anything that attracts him to them. “Mercurys have so much more chrome on them,” he said. “They’re just pretty.”
Although the Brownlees are partial to Fords, they also sell parts for Chevrolet trucks made from 1947 to 1972 and for Chevy cars from 1937 to 1965. In the metro Atlanta area, the Brownlees sell more Chevy parts than Ford.
“In this part of the country it’s Chevrolets, mostly trucks,” Waymon Brownlee said. “You go to Florida and you’ll sell more ‘49 to ‘56 Ford car stuff.”
When they travel to swap meets in Carlisle and Hershey, Pa., it’s the ‘32 to ‘48 Ford and Mercury parts that sell best. But the Brownlees seem to be just as excited about the friendships they’ve cultivated than the parts they’ve sold.
In their store is a photo autographed to Shirley Brownlee from country singer Mel Tillis, who bought parts for his Mercury convertible. Don Garlits, the legendary drag racer, is a customer, as is actor Ken Kercheval of “Dallas” fame.
“We’ve met some wonderful people,” Shirley Brownlee said.