SPRINGFIELD — Ron Oliver’s typical day is nuttier than ever. The 65-year-old entrepreneur’s boiled peanut business has grown exponentially over the past two years.
“I’m retired, so my wife and I saved up enough money to get us a little building here,” Oliver said on the sultry afternoon of June 28.
“Here” is a tiny lot across from the Clarence E. Morgan Complex, a state-of-the-art recreational facility on Ga. Hwy 21 that routinely hosts youth baseball and softball tournaments that attract hundreds of people to Effingham County. Somewhere between 200-300 pounds of goobers — sold for $5 a quart or $18 a gallon — are hauled from the spot weekly.
“I’d say my business — conservatively — has tripled since the ball fields opened,” Oliver said. “There was nothing over there but woods when we started.”
Oliver has been selling peanuts at his current location for three years. Previously, he hawked them a little closer to town on Hwy 21.
“I had my trailer up there for almost four years,” Oliver said.
Oliver made a fortuitous move when he learned that the Effingham County Board of Commissioners was going to build a series of ball fields on the edge of Springfield. He sold a laundromat he owned and bought a wooded lot, about three-fourths of an acre, across the highway from the Clarence E. Morgan Complex well before construction on it started.
“The ‘for sale’ sign (on my lot) was covered up in weeds,” Oliver said. “I called a phone number on it and a fellow said, ‘No, I haven’t had that property listed in years.’ He told me who to call but that guy said the same thing.
“I finally found the right guy. The property was actually in foreclosure and I bought it.”
Oliver had the lot cleared, including the removal of trees and an ramshackle mobile home, and waited a year for the ball fields to be built.
“It seemed like it took forever,” Oliver chuckled. “It was like the old watched pot. Eventually, the complex developed and they started playing ball.
“The spectators found me.”
Oliver calls his business the Clarence E. Morgan Complex’s “concessions annex.”
“Everything they don’t sell over there, I sell here,” he said.
Oliver briefly entertained hopes of working out a deal to sell boiled peanuts at the complex. He intended to transport them across the highway on a golf cart.
His plan was nixed by county officials, however.
“I don’t understand the logic behind it,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s customers aren’t limited to those who enjoy youth baseball and softball, however, Statesboro’s Donna Kirkland, who works at nearby Georgia Transformer, was lured to his business by the aroma of goobers wafting across the highway.
“I’ve come by this place so many times but I had to stop today,” she said. “The peanuts just smelled so good. I can’t wait to try them.”
While waiting for customers to show up each Wednesday through Saturday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m., Oliver sits next to a giant fan. He frequently ends up engaging in conversations with them about a wide variety of topics.
“If it’s someone I want to talk to, I have a chair I will drag out for them,” Oliver said. “Otherwise, I’ve got guys who have to sit on a cinder block. That’s how desperate they are (to talk).
“I’m probably the most opinionated, stubborn, ornery (person) you ever want to deal with and yet they still want to come and sit with me.”
Oliver has a strong opinion about government and is currently at odds with it. In addition to peanuts, he sells Florida-grown produce he obtains in Colubmia, S.C., plus fishing tackle, and would like to offer more of all of it to his customers.
He wants to put a roof over his current space and use it for refrigeration and keep himself out of the elements. The trailer he uses is heavily insulated and would work well for those purposes.
A roof addition, however, would require a turn lane to be built in front of his lot that would cost about $40,000, he said. He also said parking spaces would have to be added.
“The Georgia Department of Transportation) wants me to spend $40,000 in order to buy a $7,000 building selling peanuts, produce and fishing tackle,” Oliver said.
On June 29, Rincon’s Ann R. Purcell, chairman of the Georgia Transportation Board of Directors, said she is looking into Oliver’s situation. She added that GDOT doesn’t have an official request from Oliver in their files.
“Until then, it’s hard for me to find out what we can do or not do,” she said.
Oliver, a McDonough native who has lived in Effingham County for nine years, intends to keep peddling peanuts regardless whether or not his dream of a roof comes true.
“I’ve got people who come in here in cars that I wouldn’t trust to go from here to the street,” he said. “I’ve got other people who roll in here in cars that cost more than my first house. No matter who you are, if you like this stuff, you like it.
“It’s so funny to watch. I love doing it.”