All the Mooresville history you could ever explore under one roof sits in the Mooresville Museum in one of the town’s most historic buildings: the famed Chas. Mack and Son’s Wholesale business at 132 E. Center Ave.
But Mooresville’s building of honor in 2016 – if being rendered as a Christmas tree ornament is an honorable designation – is one that’s impacted the town’s pop culture, and empty stomachs, for more than 50 years.
What-A-Burger #11, located less than two blocks from the Charles Mack building, is this year’s designee. Its colorful roadside sign – including its pinnacle silver star and its advertisements for Cherry-Lemon Sun-Drop and Pit Bar-B-Q – serves as the ornament’s design.
The item retails for $15 and the ornaments’ annual sales, which are now in their sixth year, serve as the nonprofit museum’s top fundraiser.
For whatever reason – whether it’s the nostalgia of a 1960s-based hangout or the ornament capturing the restaurant sign’s vivid colors – sales of the What-A-Burger collector’s item are well ahead of any pace established by the previous five ornaments says David Whitlow, president of the museum’s board of directors
This year’s ornaments went on sale Oct 13 and the museum’s first order of 250 was sold out within five weeks. A second order of 250 has a few spoken for.
Whitlow said this year’s color design “broke the mold” of the previous ornaments designs, which were all brass renderings of other historic buildings: the Historic Train Depot (2011), Mooresville Museum (2012), D.E. Turner Hardware (2013), Mooresville Post Office (2014), and Mooresville Public Library (2015).
“This one wouldn’t have worked without color,” said Whitlow. “It just wouldn’t have been the same if was brass. The color just makes it pop.”
Whitlow is used to longtime residents purchasing ornaments as keepsakes but he was pleasantly surprised on a recent Saturday afternoon when a sharp-dressed man named Scott Morgan entered the museum. A relative newcomer to town, Morgan says he and his wife have bought ornaments every year since they moved from Winston-Salem to Mooresville four years ago.
“I guess we saw them in an ad in a local newspaper (Mooresville Tribune) and just thought it would be a fun thing to do,” said Morgan. “We seek them out every year. It kind of chronicles the history of Mooresville. … This is artwork in a special way. It’s What-A-Burger, but it’s history.”
Ornaments can be purchased at the museum or at D.E. Turner Hardware, Tropical Connections gift shop and Lake Country Gallery.
Like the 50-year old Whitlow, Lynda Robinson is a lifelong Mooresville resident. She has a strong connection to the Chas. Mack and Sons Wholesale building and its current resident, the Mooresville Museum, and What-A-Burger #11.
Robinson is the granddaughter of Charles Mack, who ran his wholesale business from 1937 to the early 1980s. Like other family members, Robinson worked there in her formative years, retrieving tobacco products, boxes of candy and other supplies for customers.
She was a teenager in 1965 when the opening of What-A-Burger #11 took Mooresville by storm. Now she serves on the Mooresville Museum’s board of directors.
Every summer, members of the board of directors, who number around a dozen, discuss ideas for the upcoming year’s ornament. Once it is decided, Whitlow, who’s a very capable amateur photographer, sends a photo to a manufacturer in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Museum board member Sandy Mayhew, another lifelong Mooresville resident, says, “We’ve haggled over What-A-Burger for years. Now we have to come up with something just as good next year.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information, call the Mooresville Museum at 704-663-1873. The last four numbers, 1873, are the year Mooresville was founded.