One Square Mile: Robinson & Sons is a lottery beacon that never closes

The Tallapoosa fill-up station sells ”10 or 20 $500 winners each day”
One square mile Tallapoosa
Photograph by Kevin D. Liles

Yvonne Alexander doesn’t want a Maserati. And a Lamborghini, she says, would make a mockery of her otherwise simple style. At 55, beset with gout, this gregarious, retired Birminghamian hopes the Georgia Lottery will bless her with three bedrooms and no stairs—a nice, flat house—and enough dough to really uplift a charity. So, like up to 1,000 of her Alabama brethren per day, Alexander drives east on Interstate 20 (like five other states, Alabama forbids the lottery) and takes the first Georgia exit to tiny Tallapoosa, where they famously drop a live possum on New Year’s Eve and where a double-decker billboard declares: “ROBINSON #1 Georgia Lottery Seller.” It’s here, at Robinson & Sons, that Alexander sips a Pepsi Max and plays the Powerball and Mega Millions, always using the dates her mother was born and died. This fill-up station is more than a quintessential American interstate pit stop; it’s a beacon that never closes, a community of hopeful allies. Nearly half the retail floor space is consumed by tables for scratching tickets and penciling in superstitions; this area can be library-quiet or lively as a tavern. “There’s so many people that like to just stay and play lottery for hours,” says Cody Robinson, who co-owns the place with his brother, Ty. “It’s typical for us to sell 10 or 20 $500 winners each day—that’s a good day for someone, you know.” Elsewhere at the tables, Debbie Minton has made her weekly sojourn from Oxford, Alabama, with her father, Ed Ledbetter, who began playing at age 85, after his antigambling wife passed. Minton knows the cashiers and lottery regulars by name and says the place can be a little like church, especially the time her brother’s grandson was doing the scratch-off honors and said, suddenly, “Papa, you’ve won the $300,000!” And then, beside the bags of Funyuns and Tom’s Hot Fries, with a cardboard likeness of the Most Interesting Man in the World watching, strangers at two tables began to rise, slowly lifting their arms, saying, “Praise the Lord” and “Thank you, Jesus” for the boy’s family, until a few more scratches revealed the ticket was a dud.

This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.