Andy Thompson has painted more signs than he can count. On trips to the mountains from his home in Charlotte he had seen the Coca-Cola sign on the side of the old Justus Pharmacy "beaucoups of times." Over the past week the veteran sign painter got to apply his craft to the faded sign.
An outdoor sign painter for Coca-Cola Consolidated of Charlotte for 53 years, Thompson, 72, used a small brush to cut in around the red O in Cola on a bright Friday afternoon. He was about two-thirds done with the work.
"I couldn't even try to count" the number of signs, he said. "I have no idea."
After he retired from Coca-Cola after 30 years, the company kept him on for 23 years, sending him on sign painting jobs throughout the Carolinas. He's recently painted signs in Mebane and Salisbury, the home of Cheerwine. He's painted signs in Virginia and painted one in Georgia. He's always worked outside. He raises a few cows on a farm in the Steele Creek community south of Charlotte.
"I just enjoy doing it. Like the money, too. I just always enjoyed working with paint," he said. He dips his brush into a can of thick bright red oil-based paint. "It's a sign paint, made strictly for signs," he said. "It's got more pigment in it. It's still not as good as what they used to use 30-40 years ago. Government made them take so much of this stuff out of it, (because of chemicals that were) harmful to the human beings."
The color palette is all Coca-Cola.
"They got standard colors, bright red, white, black, the yellow's what they call lemon yellow, the green's a medium green," he said. "They've got a number for all their paints."
The new coat of paint gives a vivid and fresh look to the sign that urges passersby to relieve fatigue and exhaustion by drinking Coca-Cola.
For years, the Coca-Cola bottler in Charlotte had abandoned the repainting of old signs. Thompson said the previous owner of Mike's on Main tried to get the company to repaint the sign years ago.
"It wasn't doing it then," he said. "But they are now."
The event that turned the company around was a sign Thompson repainted in Concord, an old cotton mill town north of Charlotte. Town leaders invited Coca-Cola executives from Charlotte to the unveiling.
"All the big wheels were up there," he said. "They saw how the town was enthused over it. It's like downtown Concord on the square and people use that sign as a reference point. They'll say go to the Coca-Cola sign, turn right or left or straight ahead. There's already been a car commercial made in front of it, there's been a couple weddings where people came to the sign and had their wedding pictures made in front of it."
He has enjoyed his time working in Hendersonville, except for red tape from the city.
"I have never in my life had to pay for a parking space and (pay to) block off two spaces," he said. He parks his pickup on Third Avenue in the three-hour spaces. "I had to pay the town of Hendersonville $5 a spot a day."
When he went to City Hall to pay for the parking space, a city employee nailed him for a sign permit and $35 business license too.
"I had to buy a one-year business license to paint that sign. I told the lady, I ain't on your butt, but it's just a bunch of crap," he said.
No town has ever enforced so many rules, he said.
"A lot of them are wanting the sign done so bad they overlook that kind of stuff," he said. "I ain't never in my life... Most of the towns are so happy to have this stuff redone. ... It's just unreal."
He said he has no special pattern for the work. He works on a ladder for a while, then on the ground. He cuts in for a while, then rolls the larger spaces. "I just jump around," he said.
Except for the meter maid, folks have been supportive.
"A lot of people are glad to see it being redone," he said.