If you’ve watched the hit t.v. show “American Pickers” on the History Channel starring Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, then you’ve no doubt seen the woman they’re always calling back at their store – (Antique Archeology) Danielle.
Mike and Frank are “pickers”, but what’s Danielle’s story? How did she become part of their life?
That’s what we wanted to find out.
Here then is our interview with Danielle Colby Cushman.
Q – Danielle, I’ve been watching the show since its debut. I feel I know you and Mike and Frank. Isn’t that strange?
A – You know, I think a lot of people feel that way. All of us don’t know how to be anything other than what we genuinely are. (Laughs) People get that impression from us, like they know us. I hear that a lot.
Q – I take it “American Pickers” has become a big hit for the History Channel.
A – Yeah. It’s cable’s Number One new show. We’re just thrilled.
Q – And along with Mike and Frank you’ve also become, I guess I can call you – a star. You’re just as famous as those two guys aren’t you?
A – I don’t know if I’m just as well-known as they are. There are some people who know my name right now which is kind of nice. (Laughs)
Q – Before the “American Pickers” t.v. show, how long had the store “Antique Archeology” been in existence?
A – I’ve known Mike for 10 years and the whole time we’ve been friends Antique Archeology has been in existence. He’s lived in LaClaire (Iowa) for 13 years. Its’ probably safe to say 13 years for sure, but, he’s been picken’ for over 20 (years). He’s had the Antique Archeology name for 13 years ‘cause he always made up Antique Archeology t-shirts and would bring them over for me to wear ‘cause I design clothes. I would slice them up and tear ‘em up and leave the Antique Archeology on the front and do fun things with them. He’d bring me t-shirts as far back as 10 years ago.
Q – And he thought up that name?
A – Yeah.
Q – How did the History Channel hear about Mike and Frank? Did the guys approach the channel or did the channel approach the guys?
A – He approached them. What he did was 5 years ago he started video-taping himself and Frank on the road just being jackasses doing what they do. Then they took the video to a local production co. here called Crazy Eyes and Crazy Eyes worked on the video, made a sizzle reel and then the sizzle reel got them a small show on a small network called Plumb TV. Then after that Mike just wanted bigger and better. So he shopped it around. Eventually the production co. that ended up getting a hold of it was Cineflix which is the production co. we work with right now. Then History Channel showed interest and then he negotiated with the History Channel and everything just kind of went from there.
Q – Did Mike have that Antique Archeology truck before teaming up with the History Channel?
A – Yeah. He’s had that truck forever.
Q – I always wondered what would happen in that truck broke down and sure enough on one of the episodes the truck broke down. I would imagine he has to take pretty good care of that truck if he’s going from state to state.
A – He has it serviced all the time.
Q – Were you involved in the antique business when you met Frank and or Mike?
A – I didn’t know Frank for years. I had heard stories about Frank ‘cause I’d heard stories about Mike picking with Frank. I’ve only known Frank for 5 or 6 years. My father is a 5th generation photographer, so he has all of his fathers and grandfathers and back and back equipment and that always intrigued me. My parents have always had a very deep passion in history. I was home schooled so a lot of what I learned was history. It’s always intrigued me how items find their place from one place to another. And so Mike would bring stuff home, and I design clothes and he would come in to my shop. Any clothing he would bring home, like leather jackets or period clothing, or anything he would bring home that needed to be fixed, I would fix it. He would trade out cool stuff that I collect. So that’s kind of how I got started with him. And then the show came about and he knew he was gonna be on the road. He knew that he was gonna need somebody at the shop, so he asked me to help him out. He’d been asking me to help him for quite awhile, about 5 years. I’m a flaky artist so I kind of wanted to do my own thing, but help him at the same time so I never really feel an obligation for quite some time and then I just looked at the situation like this, there’s no way he can do this on his own. So, I decided to work for him and that was about a year ago (2009). So, I’ve had a paycheck from him for about a year and been helping him for several.
Q – Do you still have your own clothing shop?
A – No. I sell most of my stuff on a website called etsy.com. So, that’s how I sell my stuff.
Q – Are you working 40 hours a week for Mike and Frank?
A – What I do is, my hours are pretty cush. I work in the morning. I hunt leads in the morning out of my house a lot before the shop opens up because right now the shop is so much a tourist destination that to even go over there before it opens up there’s just no use. I’ll never get anything done. So, I do a lot of the work at home, late at night or early in the morning on my own time which of course he compensates me for. But, the work hours are 11 to 4. 11am to 4pm. The shop is open for people to come through at that time and that’s everyday but Sunday.
Q – When you say you’re hunting down leads, what exactly are you doing? Are you going on E-bay to see if someone has something for sale?
A – No. I don’t bother with E-bay or Craig’s list. What I used to do is quite different from what I do now. What I used to do is literally hunting. I can’t give away too many details about how I do that because obviously there’s some privacy issues there that he doesn’t really want me to give out that information, like specific information. It’s just a matter of searching. Starting out you do have to be very crafty. You have to really search and be able to charm people and get them to trust you that you’re not some shady person who’s going to break into their house. But now, it’s a lot easier ‘cause the show is there so a lot of the leads come in on their own. I just search through those and find the good ones.
Q – I can understand why you wouldn’t go into specifics because then everyone would be going after the same leads.
A – You know, we’re happy to see other people doing it for sure. I think in order to do a job like that you really should kind of learn on your own. Mike learned on his own. It took him years to perfect it, but now he’s got it to the point where he feels comfortable and good. It’s pretty simple to figure out, but, a lot of hard work.
Q – In one episode Mike and Frank were underneath a stage, on their hands and knees dragging out old movie posters. Why didn’t they buy the whole lot? Did they edit that out?
A – No. There are many times the guys are on the road and people will e-mail me or call in and say ‘They walked right past that Nash Metropolitan and they didn’t even offer anything on it’. But, they do. There are a lot of times where people just say no. It’s not really worth putting into the show if they’ve been turned down. ‘cause you get turned down a lot. So, a lot of times it just doesn’t make it in because it’s not as interesting when they get turned down all the time which does happen a lot.
Q – Mike and Frank would probably want to buy in quantity than is lots of one and two wouldn’t they?
A – True. But, you have to understand those guys are grassroots guys. They don’t have a ton of money. When I send them out, I send them out to several locations. So, if you blow all of it in one place then they have nothing for the rest of the trip. So, they do have to be kind of careful ‘cause you never know when you’re gonna find a great, amazing 1912 Harley. You’re gonna come across something that’s the ship and then you’ve spent all your money. They’re pretty savvy in that regard too.
Q – It almost seems like the next step for them is to have a financial backer so they can afford to buy all these incredible finds that they come across but can’t necessarily afford at one time.
A – Right.
Q – When they buy something, the t.v .screen will say something like Paid $50. Valued $200. The key word is valued. When it comes time to sell it, they turn to you to sell it?
A – Yes.
Q – Are you going to get the price that’s listed as “valued” for every item?
A – It depends. There are times where they’ll pick an item for $60, and we’ll put it up on E-bay and it’ll sell for $60 or $75 and then there are times where we’ll pick an item for $50 and put it up on E-bay and we’ll sell it for $1,000. You just never know because the market kind of waxes and wanes a lot. So, what they try to do is be really savvy as to where the market is at the time. There are times we really got sucker-punched.
Q – You must have a list of people who for example are interested in movie posters or beer signs.
A – Yeah. I have compiled the Ultimate Collector’s List. I have the best group of collectors that are out there. These are people that I maintain very close relationships with. I go out and have beers with them. I go to their house for dinner. I maintain those relationships in part because they’re very important to our business and in part because they’re just kick-ass people that I love to hang out with. Fortunately that really solidifies that relationship. So, yeah I do work really hard to keep our clients extremely happy.
Q – Before Mike and Frank drive up to a house and knock on the door, do they tell the person they’re going to be on t.v.? I ask only because the people don’t seem surprised or intimidated to see a t.v. camera.
A – What they do with that is they’re meeting Mike and Frank for the first time when Mike and Frank go up to the door. The camera crew, the director will go to the door and ask if it is o.k. They’ll get written consent and then mic up the people and then go to the door. We try to keep it as genuine as possible so the first meeting you get to see along with the householder. However, you do need to get permission to be on the property definitely because especially the places these boys go down South, You don’t want to pull up on somebody’s property without permission. You’ll find yourself run-off pretty quick.
Q – Some of these structures they’re in, don’t seem all that stable. If they get hurt would the property owner be expected to pay?
A – No. Absolutely not. They’re covered by their own insurance. The property owner has no liability towards Mike or Frank or anyone.
Q – You really would like to go out on the road with Mike and Frank wouldn’t you?
A – Yes.
Q – They seem hesitant about that.
A – I’ll tell you why they’re hesitant to a large degree and this doesn’t really come across on camera a whole lot. Mike and I specifically have been very close friends for a very long time. Mike has viewed me as his little sister for a very long time. If a guy gets too close to me, he gets very growly or if he sees that I am not doing what I need to do with my life he gets very in my face about it. He’s extremely protective. The situation they go into are not necessarily the most safe. I think in part it worries them sick to put me in a position where I could get hurt. He has a definite line of girl-boy in his head but, he knows I’m strong. I really have faith that I will go eventually.
Q – Who then will answer the phones at the store?
A – He actually let me hire an assistant who is just amazing. Her name is Abigal Reed. She is just awesome. She helps me with a lot of the stuff I’m doing now because there’s no way for me to do it on my own anymore. So, I have Abby there. Hopefully that will inspire them to get me out on the road just a little bit.
Q – There’s something else I’ve noticed you have today that you didn’t have when the show started – tattoos.
A – Oh, no. I’ve always had tattoos.
Q – I didn’t see them in those early shows.
A – They’re there. Most of the tattoos I had were on the trunk of my body, my chest, my collar, my back. Normally those are pretty well covered up. My collar you’ve always been able to see, but it’s been a progression. So, the collar has been a work in progress over the last 4 years. My knuckles were done fairly recently in the last 6 months. They bug on my left arm that was done right around the same time my knuckles were done. So, that’s been in the last 6 months or so as well. Those are the newer ones. There’s a color that’s been added to my collar and that’s just been a work in progress over the last few years.
Q – Mike and Frank’s store is in the Mid-west. I notice they travel the mid-west and south. They don’t go into the Northeast do they?
A – Yeah, they do. They go all over the country. They do spend a lot of time in the Pennsylvania New York area. They’re in New York constantly. That’s their favorite place to be, the Northeast. Well, they love the South too. But, the Northeast is probably their favorite. It’s the oldest part of our country.
Q – Are they on the road constantly? How do they work that?
A – They’re on the road about 3 weeks out of the month. Then I get to see them for a few days and they head back out on the road.
Q – They’re on the move all the time then.
A- Yes. They’re incredibly exhausted. They’re over-worked. They are so grateful to have this opportunity they look past it all and just keep goin’. I worry about ‘em just a little bit ‘cause they do work so hard. They’re extremely driven men. After this is all done, this will last a few years. If we’re lucky, we’ll have 5, 10 years of this and then maybe they’ll have some time to rest and just kind of kick back and enjoy life a little more and retire ‘cause they’re so old. (Laughs)
Q – I don’t think they’d appreciate you saying that.
A – That’s o.k. You can put it in. (Laughs)