Previously published by CBS NEWS February 2, 2020, 9:23 AM

Antique stores are generally home for relics of the past, not newly-minted celebrities. But at Antique Archaeology, in Le Claire, Iowa, shop owner Mike Wolfe gives the customer some star power along with the dust. “Every one of these people write my check,” Wolfe said. “Every one of them do. So, I try to spend as much time as I can with them, and if we don’t rise to the occasion all the time, then I feel like I failed.”

If you recognize him, it’s probably because you’re not only into rusty bits of Americana, but you’re also a viewer of the History Channel series, “American Pickers.” It’s like “Antiques Roadshow” mixed with an episode of “Hoarders.”

Wolfe tried to sell the show for five years. But nobody really knew what a “picker” was, including the History Channel. “I said, ‘Here’s the deal, man: You’re the History Channel, let’s educate them. Let’s tell them what a picker is!'” said Wolfe.

In short, it’s someone who picks over other collectors’ collections, hoping to buy a piece or two to give it a new life somewhere else.

With his longtime buddy Frank Fritz riding shotgun, they drive some 70,000 miles a year, hunting for pieces of history that capture their attention. “When you walk into an antique shop, chances are 95% of the time, that dealer is not buying all of that stuff,” said Wolfe.

“It comes from folks like you?” asked correspondent Lee Cowan.

“Yeah, exactly. We’re in the trenches, we’re on the front lines looking for these things for them.”

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CBS NEWS

But for Wolfe, the show, and his career, aren’t really about the hunt – or surprisingly, even peddling what they find. It’s about the people in small town America who collect all this stuff to begin with.

“That’s the passion of it for you?” asked Cowan.

“Yes! And it’s fascinating to me, and people constantly ask me to try to get into the mind of a collector. And I’m a collector myself – and I don’t even understand my mind as much, trying to explain it half the time, so I’m trying to explain everybody else’s mindset.”

“Do you think you’re a little bit eccentric?”

“I don’t think I’m smart enough to be eccentric,” said Wolfe. “Don’t you have to be smart, like super-genius like, to be ‘eccentric’?”

Wolfe is the product of rural America he finds to fascinating. He grew up the oldest of three kids in Bettendorf, Iowa, raised by a single mom. “My father left when I was two,” he said. “My mom told me a story once that he was supposed to come for Christmas, and I stood there at the window all day looking for him and he never came.”

His family couldn’t afford luxuries like a bicycle. But one day, on his way to school, Wolfe spotted one in the trash. “It was one of those big garbage days. I was cutting through this yard, and I remember seeing it; it was a girl’s bike. And I picked that up, and I was amazed that someone would throw out a bike! And so, I thought to myself, if someone would throw out a bike, what else would they throw out? So, that’s why I started digging in the garbage, constantly, even if it wasn’t a big garbage day I was always in the trash cans and stuff!”

He still spends his days that way. He relishes rust in the way the rest of us savor a glass of wine. He especially digs motorcycles – old Harleys and Indians have a habit of making their way into his own collection. “All of these things in here were someone else’s dreams,” Wolfe said. “They were someone else’s world. There’s a magic to it; it’s magical.”

And that magic doesn’t just stop with rescuing old relics in those small towns. Sometimes it’s trying to save the towns themselves. Wolfe has become a one-man preservation army. He’s spent millions buying and restoring old Main Street buildings. He started in his native Iowa – Le Claire, specifically – and then expanded his restoration efforts to the charming little town of Columbia, Tenn., outside Nashville.

“I love old buildings; they speak to me,” he said. “They really have personalities. When I walk into a building that has such historic presence, it gives me the chills.”

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Restored buildings in Le Claire, Iowa.  CBS NEWS

One of his projects includes an old Chevy dealership, built in 1947. He’s turning what used to be the showroom, into brand-new retail space.  “This was, like, a huge asset, like a flagship for the community, and that’s kind of, to be honest with you, what I want it to be again,” he said.

The oldest building he’s rescued is one built in 1857, which he bought three-and-a-half years ago. Now, it’s a bustling bicycle shop. Above the showroom are two AirBnB apartments for those who want to experience small town Main Street for the night.

“These aren’t just buildings, and these aren’t just small town corridors,” Wolfe said. “All of these places matter for one reason or another, and some can survive, some can’t. But if we don’t try as individuals, then who are we as a society?”

It’s such a passion of his that when he was younger it led him, in Le Claire, Iowa, to run for city council for no other reason than to help restore Main Street. “I ran for city council, because I used to walk down these streets and night with my dog, and think about what this place could be.”

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Mike Wolfe with correspondent Lee Cowan. CBS NEWS

One of the restorations he’s most proud of is one that used to be Le Claire’s grocery store. And he’s not done yet. He wants to buy more, before they crumble away. “I tell people all the time: If you want to see small town America, if you want to see Main Street, get in your car and drive and go take a trip with your family, because it is disappearing rapidly,'” he said. 

To Mike Wolfe, the past isn’t just bits of rusty gold. It’s a reminder of where we came from, a lifestyle we can still touch and learn from, if we give our Main Streets a chance to speak. 

Cowan said, “You almost talk about some of these towns like a first date.” 

Wolfe laughed: “You know what? I do have emotional affairs with a lot of these communities! 

“This is our time to make a difference. If I can do that in any way, I want to be a part of that,” he said. 

 

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Celebrate 10 years of American Pickers with our throwback poster of every town the guys picked during season 1. SHOP NOW!

29 Comments

29 thoughts on “Mike Wolfe On Rescuing America’s Past: CBS Sunday Morning”

  1. Candace Johnson

    I absolutely loved this! But we need you in Joliet. Lol.. at least I need to pick your brain. We have so much that many of us are working on but it doesnt seem to make a difference at least not yet. If you’re looking to expand I would recommend Joliet, as it is your birth place plus an added bonus is we have some pretty awesome buildings that need rehab and our downtown area has two forms of incentives depending on where the building is located. The Loughran building would be perfect for you!!

  2. Linda Mehring

    It’s wonderful to know that someone else is so thrilled by finding American historical treasures in our small towns. I have spent literally hundreds of hours watching American Pickers. I have an Etsy shop–Vintage Allure Finds–and an Antiques Booth in Southern Vintage Co. I’m in Memphis now, but am from Akron & had so much fun with my parents going downtown shopping & to movies & dining out. You should re-do a Woolworth’s store somewhere. I bet lots of people would go there. Truly love the three of you !! My husband has a huge WW2 collection.

  3. Exinilda Castro

    What a great story and so happy it has finally been told! My hubby and I watch American Pickers! We feel blessed to have the opportunity to see rural areas that otherwise we would not see. We learn so much from you. It is definitely more than entertainment it is educational.
    I grew up on an island (St. Croix, USVI) so we took care of everything.. You did not throw away your old table. By God you fixed and repainted it and used it until you couldn’t use it anymore. (Well unless a hurricane claimed it). That was the hardest thing for me to see on the mainland. People would just throw stuff away!
    Thank you Mike for caring and reminding people about the past. Thank you Danielle for having their backs and being such a strong woman. You are beautiful and talented. Love it when you go on the picks and senior gents just melt with your smile 🙂 and last but not least Mr. Frank Fritz! You rock it every day with your best bud. You are definitely the bundle master and bearded charmer. You guys are an awesome team! Thank you so much for all that you do!
    Much love to you all.

  4. Bill O'shields

    Love the article. My favorite show by far. I had the pleasure of doing a couple of deliveries for the Nashville store, such a blessing.

  5. Ron & Mary Williams

    My wife & I record and watch all of the Pickers shows on History channel! I love the “old stuff” we have. Therefore I can barely get 1 car into our garage! I have my Dad’s little red wagon from about 1920 that I just can’t throw away! While I’m not a “Picker”, we know from watching your shows, we’re not “hoarders”. 🙂

    Thanks History Channel for continuing the series!
    PS: Been to the Nashville store. Great location! Great building saved! It’s a must see if you are in the area!!

  6. Arn Row

    I have always been fascinated with History. The old farm implements that made very very hard work into work that was less demanding. The ingenuity,the thought,the willingness to try to come up with an idea to solve a problem. Old antiques tell our story along with their old buildings,the old creaky floor of the General Store,the oldtime smells,the people that ran them,all precious memories that need to be preserved! I Love this show watched it from the very first show,I Love Mike,Frank,Danielle,Lauren,Robbie and Dave they are my Picker Heroes! It’s hard for me to not rescue some of these old relics that I see,I just Love these old items,and Thankyou to the History Channel for picking up this show which is so popular and has longevity and is so important to teach everyone about the preservation of our former generations for the education and enjoyment of our future generations!

  7. Neil Lambert

    Just seen the CBS piece. Great work Mike! Your passion for your community and saving the past shines through. I truly think that your efforts to save buildings that speak of the main street’s past is so inspiring. Best wishes from over here in the UK from someone who would just love to visit LeClaire!

  8. Ken Skeen

    Loved the personality of the interview! I am now 79, and an antique in myself! Been a watcher of the show since day 1 and love even the reruns! My grandpa was born in Arrowsmith, Illinois, a farmer and barn builder (1880). Thanks to all who make Pickers the true history of our country come alive. I was going to be a history teacher…and history to me is what we are all about! Keep on sharing the stuff of America, one pick at a time! Best wishes to all!

  9. Terry Sutcliffe

    Hi We are from New Zealand and devoted watches of your program. My husband has been a Collector and researcher all his life and he has a private museum and if you are ever visiting Auckland New Zealand there will be a glass of NZ wine to share and a pick!! Terry and Renata Sutcliffe.

  10. Todd Cooke

    I love everything about this show. I am a huge guitar collector so I understand the hunt of finding something you’ve never seen before and other unique pieces. I also enjoy seeing the guys interact with the people they are picking from. They seem to have real compassion for these individuals and I really like the stories they are telling. Keep up the great work!

  11. Dee

    Love, love, LOVE you Mike, Frank, Danielle and ALL the great folks bringing Americana back ! I admire what you have done and are doing to educate as well as entertain us “couch pickers” and helping to save Main Street from becoming a distant memory! We so enjoy learning about the item, the history of the area and you tell it in a way that makes ME excited about the pick! Good Pickin’ and God bless you!

  12. Brenda Suschena

    I didn’t realize Mike restored Old Buildings, how wonderful! How about restoring an old Theater, rather that be for live entertainment or Movies…My folks owned an Antique business in Illinois, they found their Antiques by digging anywhere, old ravines, dumps, in the country, you name it. They came home dirty from head to toe and sore from digging, but the smiles on their faces and the Treasures they found where priceless, not to mention the History of these antiques. Once your into Antiques, it’s like an addiction but a healthy one. My folks are now passed, I have their Antiques and they are proudly displayed. Continue your work Mike and Frank, I enjoy your Show. Thank you

  13. Andrew

    Amazon you should look into Hanford California great small town near Fresno. Amelia Earhart stayed hear for a while or town museum was almost shut down but we got it back you store would look perfect in the Bastille which is dead center in the middle of town.so town legends say it haunted but who knows,the building 2-3 stores and is beautiful it sitting abandoned

  14. SANDRA L PADUANO

    I love antiques and smalls and rusty gold. Not so much love for oil cans, vespas , Indians and gas station signs. But What I do love is the comfortable and joking atmosphere of the show which gives me comfort.
    I so love you guys and the folks you visit. I am an upstate New Yorker and hope you come back soon.

  15. Wayne Crookston

    You have a great wonderful show.I enjoy it all the time.Im an Antique Car guy and toy collector to.Hope you come back to the Poughkeepsie ny area one day.

  16. Kent Kalwitz

    I love this show. I can’t wait to see new episodes and even watching the reruns never gets old. Mike has a great personality and is fun to watch.

  17. Diane Berger

    I missed this interview on TV and was so happy to see this video! I have watched every show since it’s conception and still watch the reruns! We went to Nashville last fall… first stop was Antique Archeology store. Was a wonderful experience! Would have been better to meet Mike but that chance was slim. I love what he and his partners are doing. I learn things from these shows. I love old buildings, and wish I knew all who passed through and lived in these homes. Love to Mike, Frank and Danielle and those behind the scenes! Keep on pickin’ and educating us! Love American Pickers marathons! Come back to small towns in Pennsylvania!

  18. Bob Sam Smith

    S12, E1 in Pine Knob Kentucky, Frank and Mike have spotted a pair of ’57 Fords. The lesson there is that popularity diminishes the long term value of items such as automobiles. Today, practically everybody and their siblings have ’57 Chevys. But, finding a ’57 or ’58 Ford is much harder to do. I would much rather find one of the Fords. Thanks for showing that same kind of interest for the less popular items of the world!😎

  19. Robert Spape

    good day, I am Robert, from the Netherlands, 55 years of age, you guys are on the Dutch television, with picking in the USA, It’s really interesting me, and a very good television show, In a way it’s the only program I am watching on the Dutch television besides the news.
    I really enjoy it , Harley Davidson is my hobby in the Netherlands, and you guys walk into all old historic motorbike stuff, brilliant..

    With friendly regards,
    Robert Spape

  20. Anthony Ciminello

    History is often forgotten in today’s society. People replace dont restore. Its easier not cheaper just easier. Thst applies to buildings as well. Thank you for restoring and preserving these pieces of the past. You remind of of times gone by. And thank you for bringing us the history of our culture in and intetesting and fascinating way

  21. franck alexandre

    I have a big respect for the work and spirit who inhabitates MW and what he tries to do to save his country’s past and history. the show is awesome of course, but his dedication to preserve an idea of what the “good” life was is truly inspiring.
    since we watched the show we have bought several antiques and old pieces of our region … contagious.
    from two big fans in France
    Franck and Elaine

  22. Jason Underhill

    Hi guys!! My name is Jason Underhill from Byron Center Michigan. I watch your show all the time. I’m looking for vintage train signs, lanterns, or model railroad things Just woundering if you guys had anything of that nature you wanted to sell!! If so I would love to hear from you. Thanks.

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