Cars, guitars ... and hot dogs?

Greg and Margie Cooney are local business owners who aren’t afraid to diversify their retirement investments.

Greg, who was an auto mechanic for 35 years, moved to his wife’s hometown in 2011. He said he’s not the type to retire just to sit around the house watching television.

“We opened Cars and Guitars in 2012,” he said. “It was something I’d wanted to do since 1990, when I got into playing and collecting guitars.”

Margie, a Louisa native who had previously moved to northern Virginia with Greg, said she was happy to come back and be closer to family.

“I was actually born at the old hospital around here,” she said. “I was glad to come back home.”

After three years of wheeling and dealing at Cars and Guitars­, which later became Cars, Guitars and More as more goods and services became available, a friend, Jim Parisi, loaned them a hot dog cart and Margie started bringing it out on nice days in the summer outside their shop. As the side business’s popularity grew, the Cooneys bought the cart from Parisi in late 2015, and Chatterbox Hot Dogs was started.

“There were a couple reasons why we started this,” Greg said. “We wanted to invest in something that could help the shop grow later on. Also, we just wanted a hot lunch that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and that was close by. You can’t get much closer than this, I think.”

“When Margie started this, I told her we could set up a room over there in the band area where she and some of the ‘chatters’ could all congregate,” Greg said. “That’s where the name ‘Chatterbox’ came from.”

Since buying the hot dog stand and making it part of their operation, Greg said that the hot dog stand has grown into one of their most popular features with customers.

“We get the core group of regulars, as well as some people who are new faces, and some that are old ones,” he said. 

In addition to their normal weekly schedule of Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, the Cooneys have also been taking the cart to events, street festivals, and even a few private parties. Greg credits social media with helping him find new customers and get his advertising out.

“One of the means people have of seeing where we’re going to be and when is our Facebook page,” Greg said. “We get a lot of questions about the store, the inventory and the hot dog stand from that. What are our hours, what is our menu, stuff like that.”

Cars, Guitars and More is open Tuesday through Saturday, and Chatterbox Hot Dogs is open most Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, weather permitting.