Inhabit is a series by local photographer David Lawrence (Website), that shares stories about the people who call Orlando home. It’s an exploration of where people live and spend their days, whether that be at home, in an office, the streets of downtown, or anywhere in between. Lawrence explores who people are and how they ended there.
Every other week we will be sharing Lawrence’s interviews, featuring a different Orlandoan and telling the story of the places they inhabit. Lawrence is available for private photography projects and can be reached through his website, above.
*This post was transcribed and edited from an audio interview .
This week we take a different route and interview a local duo. Martin Snellgrove and Linda Updike – owners of local bar, Wally’s. Wally’s is a staple of the Orlando bar scene and I wanted to find out all about the operation.
Who are you?
Linda: It might surprise you who I am. I was married to Walter (Walter, or “Wally” was the man responsible for making the “Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors” that we know today). Mrs. Wally. Linda, Linda Updike. Aside from that, I have a personal life. I am an evangelist – a missionary to Africa, which is very confusing to a lot of people. But like I tell them when I’m here on New year’s Eve or something special where we have a full house, we pray for our customers and our staff every day. He’s a Christian [Martin- the co owner of Wally’s] too and it’s basically a Christian-based business and we go on those premises. It’s a decent place to come and drink where people know they’re safe. A woman can come in and know that she’s not going to be bothered. We have customers who feel it’s their bar, I think Martin told me – Didn’t you say that in the 64 years we’ve been open, we only called the police three times about a fight?
Martin: That’s pretty close.
Linda: The customers take care of any trouble makers, because it’s their bar and they don’t want trouble in it.
How long were you and Wally married?
Linda: 10 years, before he passed away.
Were you here regularly during that time?
I was here more when he was alive but not so much now. Martin here is living here, it’s his day and night job and I wouldn’t be able to have the bar without him, he’s been here 30 years.
Martin, would you like to answer the same thing – Who are you, where are you from?
Martin: My name is Martin Snellgrove, I was born in a little town called Elba, Alabama. Basically, I’ve had really two jobs in my life. Three actually. [I] was in the bar business at Troy State University– now called Troy University– called The Front Porch. From that, I was moved into being the largest franchisee of Popeyes Fried Chicken consisting of over 60 restaurants that I personally bought the real estate, built the land and the building. Did that for most of my life and then got to know Wally as a friend and decided one day to get involved in the business with him.
That’s pretty much been my jobs in life. I don’t like to say that people work for you because people work with you. Without that type of attitude, you really don’t have people very long. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on most of all, our staff. Without our staff, we really wouldn’t be anything. I think our newest girl, besides a part time girl, has been here well over 10 years and we have some that have been here over 20. People stay here [because] they like the atmosphere. They like the way they’ve been treated and the benefits of health insurance – things like that, that most people in the business don’t offer.
You said you’re here day-in and day-out. This is your thing.
Martin: Really, I’m not here as much as I used to be because I was involved in a bad motorcycle wreck. But basically, it’s a 24-hour job because we’re open, with the exception of about three hours a day. We open at 7:30 a.m. and close at 2:00 a.m. [By the] time you get out of here its 3:30 a.m. and somebody’s back in here at 6:30 or 6:00 a.m. We start all over again. Basically, we might as well not close. We have a full liquor store and wine and all that. We carry very hard-to-find spirits. Bourbons are the high-trend items now and we have a lot of the Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace, and stuff that nobody else has. We’re able to locate them and get things that nobody else can because of our tenure and my relationship that I’ve built, and Walter built, over the years.
We’re very proud of our heritage and our number one objective here is to take care of our customers. We’ve been open longer than any bar that I’m aware of in the Orange County. We opened in 1954 and [are] still going strong. If nothing else happens, we’re not going anywhere because I have a daughter that’s in line if Linda passes.
That’s something that she wants to do?
Martin: She wants to and has been trained to do it already. One of the things I committed to when I got involved with Walter was I would keep his name always as [the] most prestige thing of [all of] this. If Linda or I pass, we’re not going to ever change the name of this bar to anything but Wally’s Mills Avenue Liquors. We’ll stand behind that as long as it’s in this group of ownership that exists.
Have you ever thought about redoing the bar or would that cause it to lose its magic?
Linda: I believe so, because I’ve had customers come up and say, “I’m so glad you didn’t change anything.”
Martin: You know the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? A guy wants to come and paint a sign today and I said, “That’s great, he can hang it wherever he chooses. But I don’t want any more of our beautiful in the nude ladies covered up.” Because that is a very special thing that was put up in 1959 or ‘60 and people really love that.
Linda: I think that’s so tasteful that I almost put it in my bathroom in 1968.
Linda: Yes. Except we were renting and they wouldn’t let us put up wallpaper.
Where did that come from and do you still have more of it?
Martin: In a nutshell, it was something that Walter’s father found and he liked. We at one time used to have a young lady that did burlesque shows here. Where she actually would change three or four times with a different set of lingerie. We were really the first of anybody in the industry that have ever done a burlesque show in the mornings, putting on lingerie and waiting on our customers. I can’t say that had anything to do with the wallpaper but that technique came into play several years ago where you had these girls going around in modeling lingerie and you could buy an outfit for your boyfriend or whatever you wanted. We did that–
Linda: They were lingerie parties.
Martin: Yes, we did that 25 years before they ever thought about it.
I had earlier asked Linda to tell me about Africa, but somehow we had veered into another direction. I could tell it was something she was very much passionate about, so I was happy when she brought it up again.
I go to Kenya. The widows in Kenya never remarry, no matter how young they are. It’s a cultural thing, it’s not a church thing. Because the scriptures say just the opposite. But that creates a whole socio-economic group of people who are left without income. I work with the widows. I have a tea business. They harvest tea, we harvest something called Spider Grass which is like our greens, very marketable. One makes dinner rolls that people can’t get enough of. Then this year, I started a chicken business, so now I’m in the process of raising some money to buy chicken coops. One lady was so successful with her chickens that she opened a little general store for herself, and now she can hire other widows to work with her. It’s been really successful A great blessing.
That’s incredible, and based in Nairobi?
Linda: Yes. Their village is outside of Nairobi. Five hours outside of Nairobi.
How often do you go there?
Linda: About once a year. it’s very expensive and it’s a long trip.
Do you make income then from Wally’s? Does some of that go to what you do there?
Linda: Wally’s tithes every month. Yes, that goes towards things. For instance, this year, I was particularly tight on finances. Some of that money, $300, went for Christmas parties for three different villages. That’s $100 a village. The really big thing there that everybody’s so excited and won’t miss it, is every child gets a soda. It’s so precious.
That’s the thrust of my work there. Plus taking the Gospel to them.
About the photographer:
David Lawrence is an Orlando-based photographer with a passion for people and storytelling. Lawrence lives in Colonialtown with his wife, Dawn, and when he’s not taking photos he occasionally attends church, drinks a lot of coffee, and overall just tries to be a kind human.