Body shop owner preserves building's bottling history
By KENTON BROOKS
Jun. 17, 2018
MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — A Muskogee businessman is doing his part in keeping history alive — one soda bottle at a time.
That may be unusual, but it's part of the way that Robert Lawson and his wife Angie are keeping the history of their building alive ever since Robert learned the Port City Body Shop at 622 N. Main St., that he owns used to be location of the Grapette Soda bottling company from 1946 to 1966. Grapette Soda was a popular drink the 1950s and 1960s.
Lawson didn't know that part of the history. He started working in the city's oldest body shop in 1976 for Bruce Thompson. He became a partner in the business in 1998 at just 22 years and eventually took it over in 2001 after Thompson retired.
"I've been here 22 years and for 18-19 of those years I used to look at this building as an eyesore," he said. "I wanted to build a metal building like everybody else has."
Then Lawson began to find out more about the building. The more he dug into it, the more interested he became. He wanted to preserve the history and renovated it, adding 9,000 square feet of space to the already 5,000 feet of the prior building. A grand opening for the building was held in March, the Muskogee Phoenix reported .
"We've lost enough history in this town with the tearing down of buildings," he said.
Lawson proudly points out the spot where a car sits in the shop. That was the location the Grapette bottling syrup machine was located.
He even has a soda bar where customers can make their own. He has a menu of eight different sodas that can be made. The names include Three Car Pile Up, Door Ding or Hail Damage.
The customers like it, if Barbara Ballard of Fort Gibson is any indication. She walked in for repairs on her car and left impressed. She immediately told her family about it.
"I told my husband and 89-year-old mother about it," Ballard said. "They remember drinking Grapette. It was such a neat building and he (Lawson) told me the story about it. Most old places get torn down. Not many original buildings are left. I thought it was so cool."
Lawson, though, is stymied when tracing the history of the building.
"My abstracts don't tell me the age of the building," he said. "When you walk in, it doesn't look like a body shop. It looks like something totally different.
"You get a history that you don't get anywhere else. People who deliver parts to me from a four to five state area are just dumbfounded when they walk in. It's still a body shop, but you can sit down have a cup of coffee or we'll fix them a soda."
Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com