May 04

The Largest Antiques Collection in the USA

When Cracker Barrel founder Dan Evans started his first store in 1969, he turned to local antiques dealers Kathleen and Don Singleton for decor. As the company opened more and more stores, the Singleton’s continued to provide all of the décor for each store until one day in 1979 when Kathleen fell ill and son Larry stepped up to take the lead. In 1981 Larry became a full time Cracker Barrel employee and continues the enormous task  managing the largest antiques collection in the USA. This collections decorates more than 625 stores for this growing chain. We spoke to Larry about his collection.

Kirby: How large is the collection? Singleton: When I started, we were all in one building and I had a few shelves of antiques. Now, we have a 26,000 square foot warehouse on the Cracker Barrel campus dedicated to décor with 90,000 – 130,000 items in stock at all times.

How large is your staff to manage all these items? We have 7 people on staff who hunt, repair, archive, inventory, and install each item in the stores.

How do you keep track of such a large collection? Each piece is bar coded so we can track it from the shelves to the walls of the store.

Does the collection have a focus? Basically, we have a number of anything that you would find in an old country store, everything from old bottles, to small appliances. We use a lot of old advertising pieces like signs and we are always looking for large quantities of those. We also like to decorate with regional items, like old gas signs in Texas, or Norka signs in Ohio.

Where do you find your items? We go to auctions, flea markets, antique shows and have relationships with dealers and experts that we’ve met over the years. But, we also get calls from people who eat in our restaurants and have old photos or other items that they think would be a good fit.

When did you start collecting and what were the items? Well, I grew up in the business, going to auctions and shows with my mom and dad. So I started early, but it was probably Topps Baseball Cards, GI Joes, Coke bottles when they were .03 cents a bottle and knives, you know boy stuff.

And what do you collect now, personally? I like anything that is a living archive of American history, but I guess that’s why I really like advertising signs. They really tell the story of America.