TUSCUMBIA — Karen Smith stood among the debris and damage inside Sparkey’s Drive-In Restaurant this week and cried.
One side of the Old Lee Highway restaurant is boarded up to cover the gaping hole caused the day after Christmas when a driver lost control of his pickup and rammed into the building.
The other side of the building gives evidence to how powerful the impact was: It is completely separated from the foundation.
Between the two sides was a mass of damaged equipment, broken glass and splintered boards.
Smith, who owns the building and business, has had to accept that the structure cannot be salvaged.
“It has been like a death to me,” Smith said.
She plans to open the business at a temporary site in Spring Park at 10 a.m. today.
“Our workers have had to go without work since this happened,” she said. “We have to open so they can have a livelihood. Four families are affected by this.”
The existing structure on Old Lee Highway will be demolished. Smith plans to build and open a new Sparkey’s at the location, possibly as soon as this summer.
Smith is thankful her son, Todd Smith, wasn’t seriously injured or worse Dec. 26. He was in the building when Walker Ricks, 41, of Tuscumbia, lost control of his 1999 Chevrolet Silverado and crashed into it. Neither man was seriously injured.
“My son said it was like a bomb went off,” Smith said, while examining the damage. “Little parts of our lives are laying on the floor.
“The only thing that could have been worse is if my son had gotten hurt, because I would never get over that.”
The new structure will feature the old Sparkey’s sign, which will be framed, Smith said. She said “new memories” will be made at the restaurant, but she already misses the old place.
Todd Smith said his family bought the business and two-story building from Blanton Sparks’ family in 1994. He said the Sparks opened Sparkey’s Drive-In on July 4, 1956.
Karen Smith is so sentimental about the building that she had refused to replace the old counters at the restaurant because she wanted to preserve the building the way the Sparks family had left it. Now she has to replace the entire building.
“It’s part of history,” she said. “Elvis Presley was said to have eaten here. Dean Martin ate here. This is affecting the livelihood of four families and taking a landmark away from this city. We went to Sparkey’s all of our lives.
“It does not just belong to me. It belonged to anybody who had ever eaten here, everyone who came here when they dated and sat in the parking lot and had a hot dog.”
Karen Smith recently purchased an ice machine and central heating unit. She bought a water heater two years ago. All are part of the rubble now.
“I don’t have one piece of equipment left,” Karen Smith said. “I’ve got nothing. Everything in there is crushed.”
Many mementoes from her late mother’s life were kept upstairs in the building. The family is trying to salvage whatever they can among those items. One of Karen Smith’s most prized items she is searching for is a miniature model of Sparkey’s her sons gave her.
“I’m going to find that little building if I have to go through everything,” she said.
It’s going to be difficult to say goodbye to the building, but Karen Smith said she has no choice.
“We hope to have Sparkey’s back here this summer,” she said. “We’ll make new memories for Tuscumbia.”
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or email@example.com.