This month’s Business of the Month is The Old General Store Antiques! Sheridan Brand caught wind of a young man doing something very special with his passion for antiques, so we had to go check it out. Luke Knudson, a Sheridan local and not your average teenager, has gained attention and is amazing people every day with his work ethic and enthusiasm for running his passion-fueled and self-made business. We stopped by to chat with him and to learn more about his story.
How old are you?
“I’m 15, and I turn 16 in January. I have a driver’s license for the shop. I have a 1929 Ford Model A Roadster which my grandfather and I got a few years ago. The car is kind of the store mascot. I drive it in the parades and park it outside the shop during the car show.
I’m currently in my sophomore year at Sheridan High School and I am taking courses that are history related this year– A.P. history to further my studies in that direction. I do a lot of research outside of business hours on antiques, trying to figure out what date ranges things lie in and how to repair them. I try to stick to, as close as possible, a date period between 1850 and 1950, mainly around the turn of the century. You won’t find hardly anything newer than 1950, which differs greatly from many other antique stores.”
When did you start this business?
“I guess there really isn’t a specific starting date. I started buying antiques when I was four years old. I went to the Hole In The Wall, a business a woman named Renee here had, and I bought a little metal candy box, and from there I started collecting. I went to yard sales, garage sales, auctions– a lot of times I’d contact people to see if they had something for sale before the internet was as prevalent, mainly just working with classified ads. Then when I was 11 I rented a booth at Best Out West and started selling small items there. I did well there and needed more space, so I went across the street to Wild West Trading Co. and was there briefly. I sold some larger pieces, but that ended up not suiting me quite as well, so I spoke with Steve Kuzara about this building back when I was 12 in 2014. From there I spoke with him about leasing it and entered the lease when I was 13 after we had completely restored the storefront. It used to be George Geikus’s coin shop. He had the shop from about 1950 on, so I’m only about the fourth business that has ever been in this building, which is kind of unique as well. From there I leased it and opened the store in July of 2016.”
Where did your passion for antiques come from?
“I’ve always had the interest. I started buying at a really young age and I’ve been fascinated by the turn of the century time period. The world was changing quite a bit then, and it’s really unique to see the style changes. For example, Victorian developed into a far more simplistic style in the 1910’s and 20’s and further on from there. I’ve had an interest in the past as far back as I can remember.”
Where do you find your antiques?
“I find them all over. I can’t just call up a supplier and have them ship 50 things, as many stores can. So every weekend and every weekday, really, I’ll be out trying to find things. Just this last weekend I purchased at least 30 things for the store, so, I buy quite frequently. People will oftentimes come in with things that they want to sell. I also put quite a number of things on consignment.”
Where do you go to find pieces or how far do you travel?
“The farthest I’ve been is the East Coast, but I’ve taken three or four trips down to Colorado to one of my main consigners down there. I’ve also gone up to Montana a couple times.”
What was your favorite find so far?
“Well, there really isn’t a favorite, I’ve kind of just developed my passions for certain things. I do a lot of the antique lighting–restoring antique lights. Quite a few people like them for their old houses as well as modern construction. I have multiple local specialists who work on the restoration of antiques; for example, Al Billings does the clocks for me. You’ll notice quite a few clocks around the shop (which are running well). Mike Shanley restores the antique radios and helps with electrical restorations. I’ve also got Steve Baskin that does some furniture restoration, though I do quite a bit of that as well myself. There are a few people around town that I’ll contact if I need antique lettering done as well.”
Do you think your customers are people who are searching for a specific item or are they random?
“All of the above applies. I get a lot of tour buses through from different areas all around the world. A lot of people who don’t even speak English will come in and buy things as little mementos of the West, and I deal a lot with returning customers as well. I have three or four customers currently restoring historic homes in Sheridan and other local areas. I deal quite heavily in architectural salvage (quite a bit of the lighting). I sell doors, windows, lighting, staircases–all of the things to go back into a house to make it period correct. I also have quite a few tourist sales. Oftentimes people see things that they remember from their childhood in my displays and they’ll come in and remember the past (and purchase it too).”
What’s the weirdest antique you’ve had so far?
“I had a civil war amputation kit at one time and I’ve had multiple quack medical devices. It’s actually on loan to the Wyo Theatre right now for the Adams Family production. I have two kits that were supposed to cure cancer using ultraviolet light and apparently they had relatively positive effects, but, you won’t find many people using them anymore. I get post-mortem photographs as well. They were taken because often times people didn’t have any photographs of their loved ones until they passed away and figured they’d have a photo taken of them before they were buried. They were usually propped up on stands or set in chairs to appear as though they were alive.”
What process do you go through when deciphering which pieces you want to have in your store?
“The main thing in my shop is that it’s before 1950. The true definition of antique is over 100 years old, but seeing as how Sheridan County wasn’t established until the 1880’s, it’s kind of hard to find things that are over 100 years old explicitly. So, I’ll find things anywhere older than 70 years old. After the 1940s and second world war, things changed tremendously in both style and construction. Those things are far more modern than people realize. It’s all just perspective but many don’t realize what a true antique is, so I carry both antique items and vintage pieces.”
What makes The Old General Store different/unique to other antique shops?
“Well, there are actually only three or four antique stores left in Sheridan. When I started there were seven or eight, so they’ve been closing pretty frequently with the online shopping trend that has been growing in the last few years. When I started, there was a fair bit less of that. I haven’t really noticed a huge difference in sales due to the uniqueness of antiques and the varying availability. Online shopping hurts other retailers far more than it hurts me. I feel that the time period I adhere to in my shop benefits me. I have customers come in looking for specific things as well as lookers. I oftentimes will look for specific things for customers if I don’t have it. I also have a warehouse full of antiques, so there is a lot more than what is presently here at the shop. I would say the main thing that makes my store different, besides the inventory, is that I just try to keep the quality up. I’ll try to keep as best as possible things that are in working or good condition that are within that date period, I don’t really cater to the tourists that are just wanting like a shot glass from Wyoming. I sell real Wyoming antiques and other area things.”
What is your favorite part about being a young business owner?
“Well, my favorite part about being a young business owner would probably be showing people that it really can be done. I guess the general opinion of many people my age is not very high and I try to undo that as much as possible. I try to remain very professional in my approach to people. I try to really treat it as though I’m 30 years old and not 15 and many people don’t realize my age unless I mention it.”
What are your future plans/goals for the business?
“I’m looking at potentially expanding right now, I’ve really run out of space here. I don’t really know where that is headed yet, but I’d love to be able to have more square footage. I have over 90 consignors in here along with my own things, and I also have four good vendors that I deal with. I rent out spaces in the store to people selling their own items. Katy Lunde restores the antique trunks along with Jeri Haugen. Terra Roberts does miscellaneous antiques and stays within the date period as best as possible as well. Putt and Jill Thompson are up from the Custer Battlefield Trading Post in Montana, they sell quite a few early Native American antiques. I also have Alex Banks, who has dealt in antiques for quite some time. He was down in California and sold antiques there. He had a shop here for quite some time as well. I happened upon him one day at his yard sale about four years ago and before that, I went to his auction. He works at the shop as well. I have three other employees that help me here as well. (Maurine Badgett, Elaine Irby, and Mike Shanley).”
How do you juggle being a business owner and a teenager at the same time?
“I guess I’ll be honest, the store has been highest on my priority list. There is a lot more here that needs to be contended with. I work at the shop at least until 9 or 10 in the evenings and then on weekends of course. Summers are a whole lot easier for me to deal with, but it’s a full-time commitment. I end up working 13 to 14 hour days by the time I’m done with everything.”
Do you have any other hobbies besides collecting antiques?
“Well, the past is my hobby, anything to do with the past is something that I’m interested in. Antique cars, restoring the antiques–I guess I don’t really have time for other things besides the store. I’m truly motivated to work on it, which is something that differs from a lot of people. The past is my passion so the hours are a little bit less of a consideration for me.”
What do your friends think of the business/owning a business?
“A lot of them are impressed with it and don’t necessarily believe it. Some of them have jobs, but this commands a similar amount of effort as a job and yields more and you can say it’s your own. I’ve always wanted to do it and it’s always been a hobby for me.”
More about the building:
“I did a lot of the cosmetic things while Steve Kuzara (landlord) did the structural things to it. I exposed the brick, cleaned the beams, stripped woodwork, painted, and cleaned up the original bathroom in the building. I wanted the store to appear old just like the things inside of it. The building was originally the Bumblebee Saloon and had a house of ill repute upstairs. A lot of these buildings (especially north of Grinnell Plaza) were part of the Red Light District, as one would call it. It was then the Fern Cafe and Sheridan Coin Company until I moved in.”
Do you have any specials or things to announce with the upcoming holiday season?
“The Christmas season is a busy time for me. I do a completely vintage Christmas display and I offer particular sales on items. The Christmas Stroll is a good time to come down. I offer food and refreshments. I also light the store partially in oil lights to truly appear old.
For me, it’s about rekindling people’s remembrances of the past, and sell it if I can. I essentially made a business out of my hobby.”
Do you plan on going to college?
“Yes, I do. I plan on going into real estate and historic preservation as well. I really enjoy seeing historic buildings restored and not destroyed as many people do (as well as houses). I think it would better serve communities restore buildings instead of destroying the historic architecture/history that has been there for 100 and more years.”
Luke has accomplished, at such a young age, what most people dream of. He has turned his passion into a career. The Old General Store is a unique gem in the heart of downtown Sheridan. We can’t wait to see what this young business owner does in the future and we know it will be amazing.