Livingston man is curator of local nostalgia
The loud buzz of neon is the first thing you hear when walking into Mister Jim's garage, but what you see is much more overpowering.
Mister Jim's private collection is three decades in the making—a combination of memorabilia from national brands and local nostalgia.
"Of course we have the infamous La Fonda's sign from Airline Highway. It's one of our prized possessions," Jim said, pointing to the former restaurant's awning.
Tucked away behind his home, his garage is plastered with more than 30 years worth of collectibles.
Some of it is worth a small fortune.
"It's a double sided Shell neon sign from probably the 30s and porcelain, and that sign there is probably $15,000 or so. It's hard to believe."
But Jim, who didn't want to share his last name to retain some privacy, says his most prized possession in his entire collection isn't worth much money at all.
"It's probably something small. I'm from Bunkie, Louisiana."
He points to a pair of thermometers from his hometown. In another room, a vintage photo of his wife, Virginia, taken outside the Governor's Mansion.
Speaking of his wife, she says he doesn't mind his hobby.
"I mean, we got a 3000 square-foot shop here. I don't think we need any more stuff, but he does enjoy it, and I actually enjoy it myself," Virginia said.
The retired civil engineer doesn't just collect—he also restores his treasures to their former glory, or completely transforms them. Jim took the giant root beer statue from Frostop and turned it into a bathroom.
But the couple nearly lost it all six years ago, like thousands of other Livingston Parish residents.
"Believe it or not, in 2016, this shop had three feet of water in it. So my wife and I had to take everything out of here, clean the floors, and bring it back to life."
Because of all the love and time he's put into his collection, he hasn't been interested in selling any of it—even turning down an offer from the History Channel to be on its "American Pickers" show.
"I bought all this stuff because I enjoy it, and most everything in here has a story, and I enjoy the story as much as the item."
But for any collectors foaming at the mouth, you may have a shot in the future.
"My goal is to sell everything the day before I die, so we'll see how that works out."
Mr. Jim's collection isn't open for public viewing, as he likes to keep it for friends and family.
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