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The Truth About The American Pickers' Store

With a concept that's "Antiques Roadshow" meets "Hoarders," "American Pickers" is a fascinating look inside the homes and businesses of Americana collectors across the country. Mike Wolfe is the show's main "picker," a person who buys various antiques and collectibles for resale, with many of the items that he finds winding up at his store, Antique Archaeology.

With longtime friend Frank Fritz at his side on the hit History Channel series, which debuted in 2010, Wolfe drives around the country looking for good places to pick, mainly in rural America. He spends six months out of the year on the road, traveling roughly 70,000 miles during that time. He has an eye for spotting diamonds in the rough — those rusty old signs and broken down cars are worth big bucks to the right buyer.

Wolfe has turned rummaging for junk into a booming business, and his successful store gives curious visitors a chance to look through what the famous picker has picked. If restored, hard-to-find artifacts are your thing, you may want to visit Antique Archaeology.

Here's the truth about the "American Pickers" store.

The American Pickers store has two locations

Wolfe is the product of the small-town America he finds so fascinating on his travels. He grew up in rural Iowa, where he started his career by plucking an unwanted bicycle out of the trash, and opened his first Antique Archaeology store close to his hometown.

The flagship LeClaire location, which has been around since 2000, is home base for the "American Pickers" show. Housed in a two-story former fabrication shop located near the Mississippi River in a town best known as the birthplace of Buffalo Bill, the sprawling two-building store includes an office where assistant Danielle Colby is often seen talking on the phone.

A second store in Nashville, the city Wolfe currently calls home, opened in 2011 in the old Marathon Motor Works car factory from the late 1800s. While smaller than the LeClaire shop, it's still chock-full of goodies and just a few blocks from Downtown Nashville.

Both spaces are designed to be half-shop, half-museum, with a lot of "American Pickers" souvenirs like t-shirts and hats thrown in. The shops are packed wall-to-wall with vintage and antique items, collectibles, and unique home décor — all picked by Wolfe.

Yes, things from the show actually wind up in the store

If you're an "American Pickers" fan, chances are you'll spot something you recognize from the show in one of the Antique Archaeology stores. While some things are for sale, many items are "for display only," creating something of a museum-like atmosphere. In Nashville, fans line up for selfies with a 1942 Harley Von Dutch motorcycle and an Evel Knievel outfit that appeared on the show.

Restored vintage cars often sit outside the LeClaire store, while bicycles and antique light fixtures hang overhead in Nashville. There are signs, signs, and more signs for sale wherever you go, along with vintage gas pumps, Coca-Cola coolers, and various knick-knacks.

While some things in the stores haven't appeared on the show, they are still handpicked by Wolfe and his team. And just as Wolfe combs through the jam-packed places from which he picks, he suggests visitors to his equally overcrowded stores do the same. "In my experience, the best pieces are sometimes in the places you would least expect them to be found," he told House Beautiful.

If Mike Wolfe is in the store, he's always willing to chat

When Wolfe isn't on the road, he's happy to stop by one of his Antique Archaeology stores to chat with fans and snap selfies. When he steps through the doors, he's treated like a rock star, with fans crowding all around him — and that can be a big crowd, with an estimated 800 to 1,000 people visiting the LeClaire store on a good day. But the reality star doesn't mind. In fact, he appreciates it.

"Every one of these people write my check — every one of them," Wolfe told CBS News. "So, I try to spend as much time as I can with them, and if [I] don't rise to the occasion, then I feel like I failed."

In that sense, Wolfe takes a real "by the people, for the people" approach to his business. Just don't expect to see his "American Pickers" sidekick Frank Fritz there with him.

Why you won't see Frank Fritz at Antique Archaeology

While "American Pickers" fans who hit up one of Antique Archaeology's locations may have the good fortune to bump into Mike Wolfe, the same can't be said about Frank Fritz. The reason? He isn't involved in the stores and runs his own business, putting his finds up for sale online. (This isn't to be confused with the traditional brick and mortar store bearing his name, Frank Fritz Finds, located in Savanna, Illinois. Apparently, Fritz and the owner of the store are friends, but the reviews on Yelp for the whole operation are less than savory.)

Wolfe and Fritz reportedly don't compete against one another for profits of their picking purchases either, given that they head up individual businesses separate from one another. Essentially, there's plenty to go around. As a History publicist previously explained (via Star Tribune), "They each run their own business, and they sell the items you see them purchasing on the show separately. Mike is the sole owner of Antique Archaeology. Frank sells his items via his website at www.frankfritzfinds.com."

Mike Wolfe owns more than just the Antique Archaeology stores

Wolfe has built a small empire outside of American Pickers and the Antique Archaeology stores, owning several other business and investments. One of his most accessible endeavors is his Two Lanes brand, which is advertised as "all American-made apparel and accessories for explorers of the back roads." The line includes hats, shirts, pet accessories, and custom soap, and can be found in Antique Archaeology stores and online.

Lesser known might be the fact that Wolfe also owns the Trek Bicycle Shop in Columbia, Tennessee, about 40 minutes south of Nashville. There, he gets to indulge his lifelong obsession with bikes that started as a kid in Bettendorf, Iowa, when he picked one out of the trash because his family couldn't afford to buy one.

Wolfe also dabbles in the real estate business, buying and renovating historic buildings in small towns to help boost local economies. The bike shop is housed in one of those buildings, which is also home to a Two Lanes Guest House that he rents out on a short-term basis.

"For the past 30 years, selling to designers and decorators has been a major part of my business," Wolfe has said of the space. "This is the first time that I've been able to utilize that experience for other people to enjoy. I'm on the road six months out of the year. I check-in to a lot of hotels and Airbnbs, so I understand what travelers need when they're looking to relax after a long day."

You can sell your stuff to Mike

As "American Pickers" is a reality TV show, it's based almost entirely on the real-life work of its titular treasure hunters, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz. The long-running series is an outgrowth of Wolfe's densely-packed Antique Archaeology shops, and fans of the show can interact with Wolfe in a way much like they would if cameras and a sound crew were involved. That is to say that viewers — including collectors, antique traders, and those wishing to unload the contents of a basement, garage, or storage unit — can directly approach Wolfe and his associates about selling their old items and vehicles. 

Antique Archaeology's website maintains a "Got Stuff" portal, where visitors can submit a request for assessment and possible sale. Wolfe is particularly interested in seeing motorcycles ready to move or a "pick for the show," meaning an item that could be featured on a future episode of "American Pickers." All potential sellers have to do is provide their name, contact information, location, and a picture of the valuable find, along with a brief description of what it is they're trying to sell.

Fans can shop online

Unless he's got some special buyer in mind, or if he wants the item for his own personal collection, Mike Wolfe brings the treasures he scouts for and purchases on "American Pickers" right back to his home base — the vast secondhand store called Antique Archaeology. He tends to buy uncovered cultural and vehicular chestnuts that he thinks he can turn around and sell for a profit, and he makes those items available to the public via display on the sales floor — but with modern technology, too. 

An ever-changing array of classic and one-of-a-kind items are always up for sale on Antique Archaeology's website, including books, photo albums, tin cans, and car parts — basically, anything that can be easily and carefully shipped through normal channels. Because Antique Archaeology is as much of a TV star as its proprietor, Wolfe additionally offers a bunch of products bearing the store's name and logo, such as hats, T-shirts, tote bags, and coffee mugs.