SHARTLESVILLE, Pa. (CBS) — Three employees turned friends are working to help preserve a tucked-away gem in Berks County, where people visit to travel back in time on a small-scale budget.
Roadside America in Upper Bern Township serves as the home to the nearly 6,000-square-foot indoor miniature village exhibit with fully-functioning railroads, flowing waterways and push-button-activated animations, which was the creation of Laurence T. Gieringer in 1935.
But earlier this year, after decades of being on display at its current location, three Roadside America co-workers, Jon Jordan, Richard Peiffer and Jeff Marks, learned that Gieringer’s family planned to sell it.
“We were bummed out, wondering, ‘Are we still gonna have jobs?'” Jordan said.
The three Roadside America employees shared an affinity for the place and its miniature village long before they began working together. Now, they are teaming up to restore and relocate what had been a childhood wonder for them.
“Between the three of us, we have the skills to get the job done,” said the 22-year-old Jordan, who has spearheaded the Kickstarter fundraiser entitled “A New Life for Roadside America.”
“We have the three main pieces of the puzzle to make this work,” Jordan said, explaining the different necessary skills that each of the three bring to the table. “I think we’re more than equipped to do it and excited to do it.”
Jordan leads the way with his business and social media acumen as the team put together a concise business plan and began crowdfunding their passion project.
The Kickstarter campaign has a goal of raising $750,000, which would help cover the asking price for the display and the cost of restoration and relocation.
“We want to keep the nostalgic look people have come to know and love,” said Jordan about what he called “a magnificent piece of craftsmanship” that “may not be seen again.”
Jordan says he understands that raising the funds for the purchase and more will be a reach.
“We’d love to crowdfund this,” he said. “This is a crazy long shot. We recognize how nuts it is.”
For Peiffer, a former Navy sonar technician, the display at Roadside America is a landmark that dazzled and inspired him when he was just 5 years old.
In 1968, Peiffer’s family took a road trip to go see the miniature village and from that point on, he was hooked.
“I did that silent ‘Wow,’ with my hands spread and mouth open,” recalled the 54-year-old technician.
Now, Peiffer brings his passion and submarine maintenance expertise to Roadside America. And he, much like Jordan and Marks, wants to give others the same feeling he had as a toddler.
“Success would be a grand opening and people showing up, and they walk in and (the miniature village) looks like it did,” he said. “We want to keep it retro. You’re going to see what Laurence put there.”
Peiffer hopes what he calls a “family entertainment” will be revitalized for generations of people of all ilks to come.
“Based on the comments I hear when people walk out, you have to do whatever you have to do to keep this thing running,” he said. “Failure is not an option.”
Marks of Roadside America shares that same sentiment.
“It’s too much of an icon to let it go. It was all built by one man and we want to preserve it,” Marks said.
The 59-year-old artist and miniature scale train builder says the display serves as a rare slice of Americana that will continue to inspire the young as it did him.
“I was there ever since I was a young boy and that in itself helped me form my career.”
The Kickstarter campaign ends June 13 but that does not mean the job is done if Jordan, Peiffer and Marks do not meet their $750,000 goal.
“If the Kickstarter fails, we will keep trying,” Jordan said. “This is the community has loved it for so long. Taking it out of that atmosphere would damage it.”