By John Schaffner
Robert Brown may have started small with his antiques business on Hildebrand Avenue in Sandy Springs 35 years ago in a small house that later became the Embers restaurant and now is KC BBQ. But over the years his Red Baron Antiques on Roswell Road has become known as the “home of the big stuff.”
Some thought Brown and Red Baron Antiques had become bigger than life, drawing the rich and famous from around the world to attend massive auctions three times a year and to drop in just to say hello to Brown and see what might be new at the cluttered gallery.
But the diagnosis of a heart ailment this past summer has brought major changes to Brown’s life and to the future of Red Baron Antiques, including the last big auction (Auction 77), held Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 27 and 28.
“It’s a big change for me,” Brown said, declaring the heart problems under control. “I had to quit smoking, which I did. I have got to lose weight, which I am doing. And I have to cut down the amount of pressure from running a gigantic business for 35 years, with a tremendous amount of employees, as well as running three other companies, five other stores in different cities and managing a yacht.”
Cruising the seas on a yacht might be a good way to deal with stress and a heart ailment, but Brown said he is giving up the yacht and his ports of call around the world, along with most of his large business interests. He is trading in almost all of it to seek election to the office of mayor of Sandy Springs.
“I am going to stay here full time, and I am sincere about wanting to be the mayor. I believe that will be my job,” the 40-year Sandy Springs resident said. “Instead of having many, many jobs that have to make a profit every month to pay the bills, I’ll have one. While it is a big city with a lot of employees, I know it is something I can easily handle.”
In the past, Brown has said the city has not been friendly to businesses. “That is exactly my thought. Business has been slighted here a lot. It is not getting its fair share,” Brown said. “It can’t go all business anymore than it can go all residential. They must learn to work together,” he added.
He said that so far “all the advocates and pro-city people have basically been residential — longtime homeowners, longtime residents of Sandy Springs. They have been the vocal proponents of the city. Eva (Galambos) and the council did everything they could to listen to what they were saying and satisfy them. Now the business community is pretty much getting vocal.”
Brown said he doesn’t want special treatment for businesses, just equal treatment for everyone. “I understand the loyalty of Eva and these council people to all the wonderful residents who over the years have supported the cause. But like a pendulum anywhere, you can’t let it swing too far. … The main idea for the city is to be responsive to the community, to people as well as businesses.”
He said there are stories of it taking three months to get the necessary permits to open new businesses. “With Fulton County, it took about a month, and there was a lot of bad bureaucracy,” he said. “Here we have added another layer or two layers, and now it takes three months, which is completely wrong. The city should be able to act quickly and efficiently. That is what I think I can help with … trying to erase some of the problems so that they can act quickly and efficiently.”
Brown said of the city’s leaders, “There are so many ways in which they can use small amounts of thought to accomplish great things.”
He said he has seen the traffic problems for years and believes they can easily be reduced, even considering the stumbling blocks of dealing with state highways, traffic signal synchronization and power lines. “There are some things that can be done to circumvent all that.”
Brown suggests probably 100,000 cars reside in Sandy Springs, rather than driving through to another city. “Nonresident cars are driving through our neighborhoods, they are clogging the arteries.
“The easiest thing is to let the residents have a sticker on their bumper for which they pay $25 a year. Everybody who has a sticker and gets off I-285 can turn left. Everybody else has to turn right..”
He said the city would take the money from anyone who wants to pay the $25 to get the sticker so they can turn left and would use that money to help maintain roads.
“People who have the city of Sandy Springs sticker on the bumper can park on Hammond Drive,” he said. “Without a sticker, I’m sorry, you get a ticket.” He said that is done on Long Island, N.Y., so it must be legal.
“This is our village. This is our town. We pay to maintain it. If you are just passing through, God bless you and thank you for coming,” he said, “but we are not going to do anything to promote that.” He said the sticker program is “cheaper than a parking meter, and you don’t have to maintain it.”
He said a lot of nonresidents will pay the $25 fee to get the sticker, “which amounts to free revenue to us, and we operate as our own real village with our own real rules.”
Brown voiced some trepidation about giving up his business after 35 years. “I have met some of the greatest people.” He said Red Baron will still have a store in Sandy Springs at 8655 Roswell Road. “I don’t have any ax to grind right now,” Brown said. “This community has been kind to me. I can tell you about the bad stuff, but I could write books about the good stuff. The quality of life for the past 40 years that I have lived here has been awesome.”
Reflecting on his new life, he added, “Antiques are a passion, but fair government is a passion too.”