The way Allen Woodall sees it, lunchboxes are a time capsule that harkens back to those early, and seemingly simpler, days of our lives.
After all, they once were a requirement for any discerning young student desiring to show off the popular television shows or blockbuster movies they watched each night at home or at the theater.
Of course, they also were a sturdy and reliable carrier for those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrot sticks, chocolate chip cookies and apples that mom tucked inside for midday sustenance in elementary school.
It’s that nostalgia for bygone moments that Woodall — the owner of the Lunchbox Museum in Columbus, along with an antique and thrift store — has seen as both an interesting attraction and moneymaking combination for about 15 years.
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“It’s really been quite a journey,” said the 83-year-old businessman, who is preparing to reopen his museum and store Friday morning at 3226 Hamilton Road after spending the last decade operating out of the former State Farmer’s Market off 10th Avenue. The state now has that property up for sale.
“This is really a much better location,” Woodall said Tuesday. “It was kind of dead down there with the cemeteries. It really was. We were sitting in a building way back off the road and cemeteries on all three sides. It was fun while we were there, but there’s much more traffic up here, and a lot easier to get to.”
Woodall spoke just before crews with Sunshine Banners & Signs hoisted a rusting metal dinosaur back atop the previous home of the museum and store, which is where they operated for five years prior to the farmer’s market residency starting in 2007. The dinosaur is a piece of art crafted by Butch Anthony of Seale, Ala.
Tucked back inside the 68-year-old building on Hamilton Road is the Lunchbox Museum, the holy grail of sorts to 20th Century pop culture. There are more than 2,000 lunchboxes, Thermos containers and meal trays lining the walls and everywhere in between. If there was a lunchbox manufactured — and there were nearly 700 different ones to hit the market in their heyday from the 1950s into the 1970s — it no doubt is in Woodall’s possession.
Scanning them visually, one can find an old Hopalong Cassidy and plenty more that include Snow White, Scooby Doo, Snoopy, The Incredible Hulk, The Brady Bunch, the Lone Ranger, Indiana Jones, the Hardee Boys, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Hong Kong Phooey. There’s even one metal box that simply reads, “My Lunch,” with an apple on the front of it.
“If somebody says, ‘That’s Scooby Doo, what I had in school, and I don’t have it and would love to have it’ ... if we’ve got a duplicate, we’ll actually sell it to them,” Woodall said.
The longtime collector said most of the lunchboxes came from antique shows in which someone might have sold a handful of them or as many as 200. They are a major collectable on eBay and other online marketplaces, he said.
“A lot of people collect categories,” he said. “Like they might collect only westerns. And then somebody might collect Disney. And somebody might collect space, like The Jetsons, Space: 1999, and Space Cadets.”
Woodall would concede there’s an entertainment aspect to the Lunchbox Museum and those who have visited it with a sentimental air surrounding them. That’s a natural for the businessman, considering he once was a major radio station owner in Columbus, having operated WDAK, Sunny 100 and South 106, along with stations in the Georgia communities of Albany and Brunswick. The stations were sold to Clear Channel in the 1990s, said Woodall, who doesn’t miss the radio business one bit.
“Everything really was going satellite and everybody was consolidating, and it wasn’t like it used to be when you had seven or eight different local owners,” he said. “It really changed and it got to where it wasn’t fun like it used to be.”
But it was evident Tuesday that Woodall was enjoying himself as preparations were being made to reopen the museum and store. After all, he’s garnered plenty of attention from the businesses through the years via newspaper and magazine articles and TV segments. That will continue Friday when a crew from the popular Jane Pauley-hosted “CBS Sunday Morning” program shows up in Columbus for a couple of days to film a piece on the Lunchbox Museum for a future airing.
“We’ve been on a lot of TV shows locally, and we’ve been on the Food Network. We’ve been on some major TV shows,” Woodall said. “We’re just thrilled to death.”