Two times in less than a week I’ve been drawn in by an “as seen on TV” sign. First time was a rather bad experience at a restaurant in Gaffney. This time, C. T. Summer Hardware Store in Newberry turned out to be a real winner.
It was my sister, Beth’s birthday, so Glynda and I drove down to take her out to eat. We had dropped by Prosperity to pick up our mother, and then drove back to meet Beth at The Cabana Cafe. We had a great lunch (sorry, no cafe review this time) and were surprised by Beth’s son, Mason, who had come in for lunch during his work day.
During lunch Beth mentioned that we needed to check out the hardware store next door. I had spotted antiques in the window, and had seen the “American Pickers” sign on the front window. Having been burned once recently by a TV show advertisement, I was skeptical. Glynda and I said we would be back on a less cold and rainy day. Mother, on the other hand, said she wanted to go right after lunch. Looks like we were visiting a hardware store.
The items in the windows certainly were intriguing…
A sign on the door indicated that unaccompanied children would be sold to the nearest circus…
We entered to find an amazing jumble of…just about anything and everything. There were sleds and toboggans, tools, and lots of iron pans. It was amazing.
Then we met Bill…
Bill Shull has been the proprietor/owner of the store since 1972. He is the grandson of C. T. Summer, the store’s namesake. While that’s cool in and of itself, one of the coolest things is the information about Bill’s father. Dr. Clifford G. Shull was a physicist who taught at MIT. Prior to that, he had worked at Oak Ridge Laboratories in Tennessee, where he developed the neutron diffraction technique. For this, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1994. Memorabilia from his famous father, including a replica of his Nobel Prize, can be found in the store.
Bill Shull’s father wasn’t the only intellectual in the family. His mother had a PhD in history from Columbia University. Both parents died in 2001, and are buried in Newberry. His brother, a PhD chemist, currently works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Bill himself has a degree in biology from Furman, and through that connection we were able to talk about folks we knew in common.
SCETV did a segment on ETV Shorts about the store with an interview with Bill.
I asked Bill about the American Pickers episode, and he was happy to fill me in. My specific question was about how much of the show was staged?
Bill said that surprisingly little of it is staged. The producers contact prospective visits ahead of time to make sure that have something of interest, and that the location would be suitable for the show. The guys, Mike and Frank, don’t get any prior knowledge of the sites they visit, so that the surprise in discovering interesting things on camera is real. The negotiations are unscripted, and videoed as they happen. Some scenes may be reshot, in case someone stumbles over words, or says something forbidden. This doesn’t just apply to slurs and bleepable words, but for other phrases. Apparently you can’t say the words “The History Channel” on the show.
Typically the pickers don’t visit an active place of business such as the hardware store. In this case, the producers were interested in a warehouse owned by Shull. They contacted him in 2010 and arranged a visit. However, things didn’t quite work out as planned.
As Bill tells it, the morning of the shoot he wandered down the street to the hotel where the pickers were staying. Mike and Frank were out next to their van, and Bill wandered over and struck up a conversation. The guys had gone out to dinner the night before, and had walked in front of the hardware store. When Bill said he owned the place, they immediately asked for a tour. Now, bear in mind that Bill had not told them his name, and the guys thought they were going out to some warehouse.
The three of them walked back the block or so to the store, and Frank and Mike went into their picking routine. Bill was a bit puzzled about the lack of cameras, but took it in stride. Soon both pickers had armloads of stuff and had negotiated prices with Bill. Still no cameras. Mike said that they needed to head out to meet someone. Realization dawned on Bill, so he asked who they were meeting. Mike answered, “Bill Shull. Do you know him?”
According to Bill, his immediate response was, “Yeah, he’s a real asshole.” (At which point in the story my mother cringed at the crude language.)
Mike then asked, “Do you think we’ll be able to get a good deal from him?” and Bill pointed to the goods they had collected and replied, “You just did. I’m him.”
Mike and Frank grabbed their bundle of goods and replaced them. Everything was put back, then they left. Shortly thereafter they came back, though this time with a crew, and went through the motions of finding everything and negotiating the prices for the cameras. Bill said that they had a first for American Pickers – a rehearsal.
The show aired in March of 2011 (Season 2, Episode 23 “The Possum Trot”). I couldn’t find the episode online for free, but it is available on Amazon Prime. The images above are screen captures from that episode. WIS-TV in Columbia did a follow-up video about the encounter, and that video is embedded below:
Bill was quite the talker, and wanted to ask me even more questions about Furman. It was hard to break away from him, and other customers/tourists were coming in and wanting his attention. I took it as an opportunity to explore the rest of the store.
While the place looked like a jumble, closer inspection showed some semblance of order. There were tools, odd parts, and antiques – lots of them. In some cases the antiques were purchased new as regular inventory and just never sold. There were lots of parts for gas pumps. Apparently the hardware store was a supplier for local filling stations back in the day. The entire place is a photographer’s paradise with multiple textures, color and lighting. I regretted leaving all of my cameras in the store except for my iPhone. I made do with what I had.
Mom was getting a bit tired, so it was time to go. We thanked Bill for his hospitality, and headed on out. Later in the evening, Laura and I found the American Pickers episode on Amazon Prime and watched it. It was fascinating watching them go through the motions, knowing that that it was a retake of earlier actions. Oddly enough, they never once mentioned Bill’s famous family or the Nobel Prize.
So, if you ever find yourself in Newberry, make sure you check out C. T. Summer Hardware. It’s just behind the courthouse, down the street from the opera house on Bond Street. I know I plan to go back, next time armed with better cameras.