The historic Dunbar popcorn wagon that George Hasey peddled popcorn out of in Columbus from 1928 to 1974 may soon belong to the City of Columbus and be on display in the first floor of the Fireman’s Park Pavilion.
The wagon, which was sold at auction in 1979 and moved out of state for a number of years, was brought back to town by a group of local residents in 1996 who formed Columbus Popcorn Wagon Inc. and raised $50,000 to buy it by selling shares.
Since then, a plan made to pay for the wagon’s annual expenses has hit a snag, making it a struggle for the corporation to break even in recent years, longtime treasurer Alice Schmidt said at Tuesday night’s Columbus City Council Committee of the Whole meeting, where she and the corporation’s president, Al Strohschein, asked aldermen to consider accepting the wagon as a donation.
Schmidt and Strohschein said they were confident the wagon would be in good hands if it could be turned over to the city, under the stewardship of the Columbus Historic Landmarks and Preservation Commission and its president, Carolyn Fredericks.
They suggested the wagon be placed in the first floor of the Pavilion, protected by a partial wall and plexiglass.
Columbus Popcorn Wagon Inc. has about $4,200 in savings and $2,000 in its checking account that it would turn over to the city if it accepts the donation, Schmidt said. Those funds could be used to pay for construction of a secure spot for it.
“I would love later this year to watch that wagon sailing into the Pavilion, being placed by Carolyn Fredericks in a place where it would be accessible to all surrounded by possibly an area that would protect it,” Schmidt said. “And I’d love to think that long after I’m gone the people of Columbus will be able to come in and look at that popcorn wagon, consider it, read its story and realize it is a true treasure to the city.”
Columbus Popcorn Wagon Inc. was founded as a for-profit corporation simply because the organizers didn’t have time to file the necessary documents to make it a non-profit 501(c)3 organization back when they were attempting to buy the wagon and bring it back to Columbus, Strohschein said.
Where to keep the wagon and how to pay for its expenses, which amount to about $1,500 a year, have been ongoing concerns. Expenses — including property and liability insurance, workmen’s compensation, income taxes and sales tax — are paid by popcorn sales and fundraisers organized by the board of directors.
Strohschein thanked the Columbus Boy Scouts for their work in selling popcorn at the city’s Fourth of July celebration and fireworks, which has been by far the corporation’s best fundraising vehicle.
But even with the Boy Scouts help, it’s been hard to make ends meet, Schmidt said.
For a while, the wagon had been housed in the building at 128 W. James St., which was purchased in 2002 by Columbus Downtown Development Corporation Main Street, with a $60,000 donation from local philanthropists Alton and Bernetta Mather. Plans were for the CDDC to rent out the space and pay $150 a month to Columbus Popcorn Wagon Inc. for the wagon’s presence there.
In 2003 and 2004 that worked beautifully, Schmidt said, but in 2005, the tenant ran into financial problems and the stipend paid to Columbus Popcorn Wagon Inc. was reduced to $125. Even with the reduced stipend, Columbus Popcorn Wagon Inc. was “on the gravy train” for 2005, 2006 and four months of 2007, Schmidt said.
But later that year, CDDC Mainstreet had difficulty finding a tenant to rent the building, and the plan fell apart.
From 2007 to 2014, the corporation never even broke even, Schmidt said.
“It’s been a job, and at our February meeting this year when we were talking about the beginning of another year, my wish was that the city would consider taking this wagon, because I knew with the Columbus Historic Landmarks and Preservation Commission in charge, the wagon would be well cared for, it would be treasured, it would be loved and it would be accessible to the people of Columbus, which hasn’t been really true for the last couple of years,” Schmidt said.
Aldermen were supportive of the request and agreed to move the issue forward to the next regular meeting, where they could take action on it.
“I think it would be a great way to preserve some of our local history which is obviously important to our community,” Council President Regan Rule said.