Country Junk Store is Stuffed with Treasures, Memories
The Country Junk store is a mainstay in downtown Austell and offers eclectic finds like dolls, stamps, coins, pop bottles and Depression glass.
The feeling you got on Christmas morning as a child comes rushing back as you push on the Coke bottle handle of the big wooden door and watch your step and your head and walk inside.
That's the magical feeling for those who have been to Jack McDonald's Country Junk store in downtown Austell, where everyone is welcome and once you've gone, you're sure to be back.
The store is an eye-catcher with its huge Gulf oil sign and red and green painted vintage metal porch chairs, which are there when members of the community drop in to share their newest finds or just to shoot the breeze.
Country Junk, which sits in the complex next door to Austell's City Hall, is a mainstay and a community gathering place.
Once inside, it can be difficult to find where to begin as the store is stuffed from the ceiling to the dusty floors with gems from bygone eras, like tin lunchboxes, vintage Playboy magazines and full dinnerware collections from as far back as the 1920s.
Jack McDonald, originally from Valdosta, has lived in Austell for the last 22 years. He opened the store 15 years ago after retiring from his job in the Army as a recruiter.
He wanted to open the store because he felt it was important to maintain these items, which hold memories for many people.
"If someone doesn't collect it," he said. "I feel like it's all going to disappear."
Many classes of students have come to the store for field trips, and he has shown the children items that are completely foreign to them such as rotary telephones or horseshoes as well as marbles and some of the primitive pottery he has collected.
His favorite items are old Southern pottery, such as butter churns or whiskey jugs, which can sell for as much as $400. One of the most interesting pieces to ever come through was a Civil War Confederate sword and a full-size skeleton.
The store once was the home to the now-defunct newspaper, the "Austell Neighbor," before McDonald bought it from Ira Fleming.
For McDonald, the joy of the store boils down to three things: the surprise of what's coming next, the camaraderie he has with his regulars and being able to negotiate his sales and trades.
"I never know what's going to come in the front door," McDonald said. "I find nothing more enjoyable than negotiating with someone on a piece."
McDonald obtains most of his items from people who come by wanting to sell things they have inherited and believe to be "junk."
Regulars say they aren't fooled by the store's name.
"Everything. I like everything he's got old. He's got everything," said Country Junk regular, Joseph Williams of Austell. "It's like walking back in time."
"It's Southern eclectic goodness," said his wife, Angela Williams.
Even newcomers instantly fall in love with the store that has so much character but never overshadows its owner, who is quite the character himself.
"I love places like this. It's got a lot of different things that remind me of when I was growing up. I just love it here," said Gayle Walton of Powder Springs.
"A lot of people think it's junk. It's not junk. It's priceless," said Walton, who was visiting the store for the first time. She had stopped by a few times before, but could never catch the store when it was open.
McDonald does not keep regular store hours. He comes when he can, and regulars are lucky when they find the store open.
"This is my motto, 'I'm always here unless I'm gone,'" said McDonald.
McDonald, 69, has struggled with his health and operating the store is a big responsibility, but one that he cherishes.
"I run a one-man show. It's a pretty big job, but I enjoy it. I've worked all my life since I was 11," McDonald said.
"I'm not one to wake up every morning and drink a cup of coffee and then drink another cup of coffee. This is my golf course. This is my fishing pond. This is my pool room. It gives me things to take up my time so I don't have to sit around aggravating my wife," McDonald said.