Local history for sale
On Highway 34 seven miles east of Detroit Lakes, a quaint log building captures the attention of drivers with its bright, white "Antiques" sign.
Pulling over for this often unplanned stop, curious shoppers walk into the store, which instantly gives them a whiff of history.
"I had a kid come in and say, 'This place smells like my Grandma's attic'," laughs Fritz Zirbel.
Zirbel is the owner of Northbound Trading Co., an antique store he single-handedly created five years ago.
Zirbel makes his real living as a residential homebuilder, but spends his summer weekends with his real passion -- antiques.
"It started in high school," Zirbel explains, "I did restoration work for Margaret's Antiques. I've always been intrigued by the primitive history of our area ... and that's what I began collecting."
Zirbel's original plan was to keep collecting so that he could open up an antique store when he retired.
Plans were expedited though, as a building came up for sale only a quarter of a mile from his house -- a building he remembers having fun in as a kid.
The building used to be an old roller skating joint back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
"All the kids from all over came here," Zirbel said, "It was like a carnival; there was booths on both sides and lights in the trees."
Old roller skates and signs still sprinkle the store, fitting in perfectly with the old décor.
The building then served as a place where newlyweds had their receptions and dances.
A small band stage and the old, original bar also still remain in the store as reminders of their time.
After nearly 20 years of it sitting vacant and unused, Zirbel bought the building and began a three-year restoration project.
"The roof was leaking and the building was falling apart," Zirbel said.
All of his labor eventually turned into love, as he opened Northbound Trading Company five summers ago.
Since then, every weekend of every summer (the only times he's open) Zirbel wheels and deals with his customers and with those he buys from.
"I go to estate sales and auction sales, but then pickers come here to sell to me as well."
In fact, Zirbel says about one out of every 10 cars that pull up are people who pop the trunk and offer up their goods.
"I love it," said Zirbel, who says he gets about a truckload in and a truckload out every week.
He says he likes researching items on the Internet or anywhere he can find information on "things he's never seen before," but it can make pricing tricky.
"I'll go a little bit by book price, a little bit by history and experience and a little bit by what I paid for it," said Zirbel, who admits he's probably taken a hit on many items he's let go for too little.
"I'll barter a lot, but some things I have to stay firm on because I know what they're worth."
There seems to be no real specialty at Northbound Trading ... just that it's all old.
"We have a lot of old things for trapping, logging, farming, ice harvesting -- a lot of local history," Zirbel said.
Northbound Trading Co. can shoot down the old stereotype of antique stores not being for men, because Zirbel says his old guns, railroad collectibles, tools and lake items sell like crazy.
"I have an old helm's wheel, old steel fishing poles, tackle boxes and nets..."
And, of course, items for the ladies.
"The kitchen gadgets are probably my most popular item," said Zirbel, as he proudly points out a display of metal contraptions hanging neatly.
Furniture, dishes, Redwing Pottery and even kids' toys sit carefully throughout the store, some of them dating back to the 1800s.
"I know the history of some of this stuff, and that's what I find so interesting."
Zirbel says because he personally finds his items fascinating, he goes out of his way to give good deals to young people who walk into his store.
"I tend to give them extra grace and give them the best, lowest prices I possibly can just to encourage them to start collecting the history and the heritage -- I hate to see that get lost.
Zirbel may soon be connecting even more efficiently with some of those young people (and the more mature, internet savvy shoppers) as he prepares to take his store online.
"We're working on getting that up and going, so hopefully that'll be soon."
For more information on Northbound Trading Co., call 218-841-4242.