On July 2, 2011, Nashville, Tennessee welcomed her newest business: Antique Archaeology. Owner Mike Wolfe of History Channel’s American Pickers, has long had a relationship with Nashville, with antique dealers, designers, sellers and private customers.
Wolfe has owned the parent store of Antique Archeology in LaClaire, Iowa for about five years. Since the debut of American Pickers, the store has not only gained in popularity, it has turned LaClaire into a destination in the midst of the prairie. The success of that first store led to the grand opening in Nashville. When Mike planned to open this shop, his intention was to create a ‘vintage experience’. He has succeeded, and then some.
When you make your turn off Charlotte Avenue onto 11th Avenue North, you go quickly from what is a bustling city street to a small, almost desolate looking warehouse area. Then 11th Avenue passes Jo Johnson Boulevard, and you veer to the left onto Clinton Street. Suddenly, you are transported back in time. The Marathon Motorworks building took up two city blocks when it was built in 1914. The company’s original name and logo are still painted on the brick facade. You can park either on the street, or on the free lot across the street. Automotive traffic is minimal, although you may encounter some students from Fisk wandering about during a break. The nondescript glass door with the muted cockerel logo takes the visitor on a trip that is not to be forgotten
The first thing you see from the street, aside from the classic Schwinn bike that parked on the sidewalk, is the mint green Vespa in the window. Inside, there are several other bikes, from a 1940 Indian that looks ready to cruise down the highway, to a custom built dual engine BSA that pulled 177 miles per hour and set a land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. It is easy to see that Mr. Wolfe has a passion for all forms of transportation. There is even a Velocipede, which the store’s owner has ridden
The store is illuminated with Edison light bulbs, most in custom made fixtures. Funnels have been re-purposed into hanging lamps. Rebar has been welded into a huge cruciform chandelier, or as Mike Wolfe calls it, a ‘Mandelier’. On the black enameled Rebar a local artisan has welded wrenches, screwdrivers and other ‘guy things’.
The stock is as varied as it is interesting. There are odds and ends, bits and pieces, from all over the country. A large silver hubcap with an Art Deco figure hangs on the wall, and below it is the grill panel from a Model T Ford. One wall is covered with the original exterior wall from Mickey Gilley’s in Texas that burned several years ago. The corrugated steel wall, and a sign, are all that remain, and they reside in places of honor in downtown Nashville.
Mike Wolfe himself is the sole buyer for both the Iowa and Nashville stores. On Monday after Saturday’s grand opening he was still in town, and close to noon pulled up in front of the shop and began unloaded a cache of 1950s lamps and bric-a-brac. He happily greeted the customers, posed for photographs and was more than willing to discuss some of the various bits and pieces in the store.
The staff is equally as helpful. Lauren Wray Grisham is a wealth of information. As the assistant manager, if she is unsure of an items provenance, she has the courage to say she doesn’t know, but she knows where to find out. And she does.
Anyone who is familiar with American Pickers understands the premise: Mike Wolfe and his ‘picking partner’ Frank Fritz (owner of Franks Finds) drive through the rural US, buying everything from old printing press letters and naughty photos of Flora Dora girls (signed to a faithful fan of course) to a ‘jet plane’ from an old carnival ride and a neon sign from the Shriners.
Yes, there is a certain amount of excitement at the thought of perhaps meeting a television personality. Then again, this is Nashville, where you might find yourself standing in line at Walmart next to Carrie Underwood, or buying a box of nails while George Strait checks the price for horse feed. Celebrities are the norm here. Antique Archaeology is anything but.