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Blackwell shifts focus, selling memorabilia this week
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Blackwell shifts focus, selling memorabilia this week

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Blackwell shifts focus, selling memorabilia this week

Kevin Blackwell stands with the Smokey and the Bandit style Pontiac Firebird he's trying to unload from his showroom this week to make way for his property buyers. He said he'll be at his Bonne Terre location on the hill near U.S. 67 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. every night until Sunday.

It’s the end of the road — for now, at least as far as retail car sales go — for Kevin Blackwell, who built his name in the car-sales trade by using giant, flashy, fiberglass figurines, well-placed properties, handshakes and smiles, and an extensive advertising budget with catchy jingles and taglines…. “Prince of Preowned” and “Customer care beyond compare … at Blackwell Motors.”

The splashy auto dealer, who grew up in Elvins and Farmington and at his business’s peak had six car lots stretching to St. Charles, just sold his four-acre hilltop property near the U.S. 67 and Bonne Terre exit.

While the cars in the lot have been gone for a while, the acquisitive deal-maker had collected for 34 years an abundance of Hollywood ephemera, sports and music collectibles, giant fiberglass animals and shapes, and whatever you’d call such fanciful items as a half-size Conestoga chuck wagon, a child-sized Mr. Magoo car and a Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Firebird.

“I’m having a moving sale at Blackwell Motors in Bonne Terre. I’ve sold the building and now I only have 10 days to liquidate the contents and memorabilia,” his Facebook post read. “There are over 700 items that must be sold. Along with all the memorabilia there’s elephants, furniture, fixtures, clothes, smokers, guitars, pinball machines and much more. Everything has to go regardless of price. So come see me this week Monday thru Saturday 10-5:00.”

Blackwell shifts focus, selling memorabilia this week

A customer browses through Blackwell's collection, which he amassed over 34 years selling cars.

Blackwell said COVID-19 had everything to do with his decision to work mostly with car auctions at this time.

“Basically when COVID hit in March, it changed probably everybody's business, and by May of this year, vehicles were short. Basically I could get more money at the auction than what I was retailing at the car lot,” he said. “Essentially, I took every car to the auction and got $2,000 more than what I was asking on my car lot. And since then, nothing’s changed. Well, maybe it's worse because there's even more of a shortage of supply (of vehicles).

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“So you know, when I liquidated my inventory I started getting offers on the properties and naturally I'm on four and a half acres in Bonne Terre. I can't fill the lot anymore and I don't think I'm going to be able to for about two or three years, to get back to normal. So essentially I got a good offer, sold the property and now I'm just liquidating all the contents which is memorabilia, everything from cars to elephants to roosters. If you've been in the store, you know — there's a lot here.”

Blackwell shifts focus, selling memorabilia this week

The iconic pink elephants were part of the Blackwell identity, which at its peak was attached to six locations from here to St. Charles.

Blackwell said he enjoyed seeing the looks on the faces of the people who would visit his 12,000-square-foot “museum,” built in what used to be known as Lappe’s restaurant back in the 1970s and 1980s. Blackwell said he remembered Lappe’s, as well, it’s partly why he went to the trouble of refurbishing it for his car lot in 2007. He proceeded to fill it with his treasures.

“Everybody would come in and they would just be elated, you know, that it was so over the top,” he said.

But where did it all come from? Blackwell said, once you buy a few things here and there at auction, you get on lists, and soon the stuff is finding you. The fiberglass figures – cranes, chickens, pink elephants, huge gun, Indian — were commissioned to the late fiberglass artist Ron White, who is remembered in a photo collage featuring his work and his friendship with Blackwell.

“Everything has to go, no matter if I like the price or not. These are all collectibles. So it would be nice to, you know, get top dollar for everything — but I'm not in a position right now to wait to get top dollar,” Blackwell said.

“Nah, I’m not keeping anything, I’m ready to downsize and simplify. Will I have any remorse, getting rid of everything? I’m a back-to-basics guy, and I like to recreate myself. You know, when you’re in business for as long as I’ve been in it, you begin to wonder when the end will roll around, and with this (pandemic) it all happened naturally. It’s time to retool. I guess the pandemic changed me, too.”

Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at shaas@dailyjournalonline.com.

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