At almost 90 years young and less than 5 feet tall, Mrs. Lottie Johnson has seen her share of growth and change in small-town Statesboro. In fact, her entrepreneurial thinking brought about some of that change.
Lottie Olliff married a handsome farmer named Grady Johnson in the fall of 1945. The Johnson family owned a great deal of property near the Georgia Teachers College campus, and Grady ran an old country store at the location of the current Zaxby’s restaurant. He farmed full-time and worked in the store part-time, where the new Mrs. Johnson soon began working.
After a couple of years, Lottie added “mom” to her resume with the birth of daughter Jackie, followed by son Sammy, then twins Terry and Gary. The four Johnson children were born in two years and 10 months. Lottie had her hands full.
Shortly after the birth of her children, Lottie added yet another bullet point to her resume: mobile home manager.
“One person, someone who grew up with Grady, parked his trailer behind our house on Zetterower,” Lottie explained.
That gave Lottie the idea to rent spaces to other mobile home owners, and the Johnsons eventually had 18 trailers in Statesboro’s first mobile home park.
Lottie believes their home was situated in the perfect location, directly across from the Statesboro Recreation Department and just down the street from the college campus.
“The kids walked to the rec department in the morning, and in the afternoons, they took gymnastics lessons at the college,” she said.
And Lottie continued to dream.
“I told Grady, ‘I want something more decent to work in if I’ve got to work the rest of my life,’” Lottie said. “I want something different from everybody else.”
Lottie was aware of 7-Eleven-type stores in Savannah. On the way back from a trip to Florida one day, she spied a large building and told Grady to stop the car.
“Grady, that’s my store,” she said.
Several years later, someone said to Grady, “Let’s build that store that Lottie wants.”
Grady checked with Lottie: “Do you still want that store?”
When she answered positively, Grady said, “Well, start drawing.”
In the spring of 1961, Johnson’s Minit Mart opened, the first of its kind in Statesboro. Lottie worked long hours, from
7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.
The next Johnson adventure was another first for Statesboro, a shopping center located behind the Minit Mart. That shopping center still stands today — College Plaza on Fair Road.
Lottie’s ideas continued to unfold, and she said this about the process: “We had a dream but not enough money to do it all, so we did a little along.”
The Johnsons moved from Zetterower Avenue in 1967 to a location farther down the road beyond the Minit Mart to what Terry (Johnson) Joyner said felt like “the boonies” at that time, taking the mobile home park with them and adding additional lots.
Johnson’s Mobile Court, with about 60 lots for mobile homes, remains on that location today, off Fair Road on Grady Johnson Road. Lottie continues to manage and keep the books for the mobile home park.
Meanwhile, Statesboro and the Johnson children grew. Daughters Jackie and Terry graduated from college and married ministers — one Baptist and one Methodist. Sammy played football in college, later encouraged the Georgia Southern football program and eventually managed the Minit Mart and beer and wine store addition. And Gary, who died at the age of 41, was a popular hairdresser at 39 South.
Lottie said she often told others, “I have one son that makes me feel good, one son that makes me look good, and two sons-in-law that make me be good!”
Meanwhile, back at the Johnson farm, the family sold property to the college for the football stadium, leased out the shopping center and then sold it and sold the Minit Mart location to the future owners of Zaxby’s.
Lottie slowed down for a time when Grady passed away in 2001. Her sadness kept her close to home, but her giving spirit soon led her out to help others. She started taking tap dance lessons from Mrs. Reba Barnes, and the two began to visit nursing homes to “help the old people exercise.” Shag lessons came next with another widower, Mrs. Mabel Sanders.
Daughter Terry speaks fondly and with admiration of her mom, the entrepreneur.
“She’s salty, but with a tenderness in her,” Terry said. “She’s a survivor in a lot of ways, victorious in a lot of ways.”
Now, at age 89, with seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, Lottie says, “I’m not through yet. As long as I’m feeling good, I’m going to be doing something.”
Only time will tell what Mrs. Lottie Johnson will be up to next.