Who sells beef along West Main ... and, more importantly, why?

Jim Craven 2/15/2007

The drive toward Jacksonville from Medford would somehow seem amiss without the prominent "Beef For Sale" sign looming just minutes past the Roadhouse Grill and Oak Grove Elementary School.

The sign has served both as notice to homeowner Steven Strauss' customers that the unlikely meat market is open for business and, for locals, as a directional landmark for the past 15 years.

Stop us if you've heard

this one before ...

One of the oft-told and most-loved children's jokes involves that empty frame there and what it depicts. (STOP! ... Too bad, we're telling it anyway.)

One familiar version stars "Sesame Street" buddies Bert and Ernie.

One day Ernie and Bert were at home. Ernie was standing before a blank canvas holding a palette and a paintbrush, as though painting. Bert approached Ernie and asked Ernie what he was doing.

Ernie: "I am finishing a painting."

Bert: "But what have you painted? I see nothing but a blank canvas."

Strauss' impromptu burger mart began out of a need to keep grass growth under control on his property. "What I do, I've got a couple acres out here and every year about March, I buy half a dozen 'lawn mowers' and I put them out there and let them mow the grass," he said.

Near the end of the growing season, Strauss posts a sign and sells off his cows to anyone in search of quality, grass-fed beef.

Strauss says his operation is similar to how things were done in the early to mid-1900s.

"Prior to World War II, most folks didn't have freezers. People would rent a locker at a local store — screened-in lockers for storing beef — then they'd buy a half or whole cow. What I'm selling is historically called "locker beef."

In the early years, Strauss would remove his "Beef for Sale" sign when the goods ran out.

"But then people complained when I took it down whenever I'd sell out," he recalled.

"It's because it's a landmark. There are a lot of people who give directions using that sign."

Strauss said the marketing power of his sign is almost too much.

Last year, he had so much more demand for his cows than he could provide that he teamed up with Central Point rancher Larry Martin.

"He actually approached me when I was at the farmer's market in Ashland and he had all this demand and nowhere near the product," Martin explained.

He knew exactly which sign Strauss was talking about.

"Yeah, I'd noticed it. I think everyone knows where it's at."

Directions aside, Strauss is quick to point out he's not physically selling any type of groceries.

"It's against the law to sell meat unless it's federally inspected. I sell these people live animals, then they make a deposit and it's up to them to have it put down and taken to the butcher and weighed," Strauss said.

Aside from a few random acts of vandalism over the years, Strauss' sign continues to serve both folks looking to find a good deal on beef and others trying to give directions down West Main Street.

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