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Memories from the Museum–Coca Cola in Monticello

January 11th, 2009 by

This week’s reflection will summarize the history of an American institution in Monticello from its beginnings to its end. This product, symbolic of America itself, was known for generations as “the pause that refreshes” – Coca-Cola.
Coca-Cola in Monticello began in 1935 with a branch office and bottling plant located on the corner of South Main Street and West College Avenue.
The original tall, ghostly building with Gothic features and a cedar shake roof still occupies that corner today, although it has served many other purposes over the years.
No doubt it was a beauty to behold in 1935. Mr. Harry Daroux was the earliest manager whose name is remembered. Many older Monticellonians remember when the rear windows weren’t boarded and passersby could watch the assembly line fill the glass bottles and whirl out the refreshing soft drinks.
In 1967 Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southeast Arkansas, headquartered in Pine Bluff, decided to expand its Drew County bottling operations and purchased a seven-acre tract of land at the intersection of then-Highways 81 and 4.
Their plans were to build a much larger bottling facility that covered 41,250 square feet of the property.
A grand opening gala was held at the Hwy 425-278 site on Saturday, May 27, 1967, for the new bottling plant. Coke even had Anita Bryant, well-known singer and television star at the time, as its special guest.
(She was the official Coke representative in commercials at the time. Many of you may not remember her, but you may remember such songs as “My Little Corner of the World” and “Paper Roses”.)
This formal opening of the plant was a two-day event with tours of the plant, souvenirs and door prizes. The late Waymond Griffith was plant manager at that time.
In 1979 and 1980 further expansions of the plant on Hwy 425 increased the plant size by 28,000 square-feet.
Drew Countian Ken Saffold returned to Monticello to become plant manager in 1980. Mr. Saffold oversaw all of these later expansions and stayed with Coca-Cola till it left.
1986 seemed to be a stellar year for the Monticello Coke plant. In mid July of that year the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southeast Arkansas announced it would be closing its Pine Bluff operations and moving its entire production line to the Monticello plant by the end of that summer.
An additional 42,515 square-foot expansion with a new production line and warehouse was already scheduled to start up in Monticello the week of August 4th.
This expansion included a sweetener storage room, syrup room, water treatment room, a filling room, a new and larger shipping and receiving dock and a new shipping and receiving building that included a fuel island. The existing building was also renovated.
The total cost of this expansion at Monticello was $4,300,000. The company’s production of all its products in Monticello began on September 2, 1986.
In the ensuing years business and market trends did not continue to smile so favorably on the Monticello plant however.
In November, 1990, South Arkansas Coca-Cola and its owners announced that it would cease its bottling operations at the plant in Monticello. The last bottle would be filled December 31, 1990.
The owners had decided to concentrate all their bottling efforts at plants in Monroe, LA, and Jackson, MS. They stated this move would allow the company to be more competitive and aggressive while marketing the product at the least cost to the customers.
Jobs were offered to many employees at these other plants; others were offered severance packages.
A sales center, cooler service and warehouse facilities and personnel were retained at the Monticello location. It was still a hard blow to the economy of Monticello and Drew County.
From 1991 to 2003 the Coke facility in Monticello served as a warehouse and distribution center.
In March of 2003 it was announced that the plant would be closing for efficiency reasons. All operations done in Monticello would be relocated to Little Rock or Camden distribution centers.
Many of the plants employees were again given the opportunity to relocate to Little Rock or Camden. Plant manager Saffold had already planned to retire that year. The plant formally closed on April 25, 2003.
Thus ends the story of Coca-Cola in Monticello and Drew County. The property was sold, the facility razed and Walgreen’s has built in that location.
Ironically, much of Ken Saffold’s adult life story parallels the Coke story in Monticello. He well remembers Mr. Henry Daroux, the plant manager at the South Main Street location when Mr. Saffold worked there as a sophomore in college in 1960. Mr. Daroux was transferred to the Pine Bluff Coke plant at the end of 1963 or early 1964. After a stint in the National Guard, Mr. Saffold went to work in Pine Bluff for Coke under Mr. Daroux’s leadership in that year.
After several years in Pine Bluff, Mr. Saffold transferred home to Monticello as plant manager in 1980. He remained there as plant manager until Coke ceased all operations in Monticello in 2003.
While manager, Mr. Saffold oversaw four plant expansions, renovation or additions. He retired in 2003 after 43 years with Coca-Cola. Ironically, the Coca-Cola plant in Monticello closed on his birthday, April 25, 2003.

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