Father, son run Cass Country StorePublished 7:33pm Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Cass Country Store on M-60 next to Family Dollar was known for a time as Real Deal Flea Market since opening July 18, 2009.
The former seems more fitting because upon closer inspection, father-son team Fred and Bruce Hutson, formerly of Dowagiac, methodically arrange their merchandise into boutiques — automotive, tools, stuffed animals, dishware, antiques, beer signs, even a section of lawn sprinklers — like a miniature mall in a 35-foot-wide by 80-foot-deep floor space.
Not only is Hutson’s store a local version of “American Pickers,” but Fred tugs a business card from his wallet left by a representative of the television show.
“We’re just like ‘Pawn Stars’ and ‘American Pickers.’ We’re recyclers,” Bruce said. “We’re getting people coming from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Russia — they were on vacation — Three Rivers, Elkhart, Niles, Dowagiac and Cassopolis.”
Eighty-five to 90 percent of their wares come by donations, which qualifies givers to a 30 percent discount storewide. Tell friends about Cass Country Store and knock off another 10 percent.
Where else in the village can you pick up a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a wedding dress or a grandfather clock?
“We sell anything from little-bitty quarter stuff to high-dollar stuff. Videotapes. Clothing, five for a dollar,” though last month they gave away 19 bags to those who needed apparel.
“I sell movies all day long at a dollar apiece. I’m getting a lot of baseball and basketball stuff,” said Bruce, who at one time operated a sports collectibles store in Paw Paw.
Bruce’s passion for professional wrestling is evident as memorabilia covers a wall.
Another wall is devoted to NASCAR. Hockey gear dangles overhead.
That autographed Beatles shirt? The signature that looks like “Paul McCartney” was actually autographed by wrestler Balls Mahoney.
Bruce also owns a head-dented chair signed by Mahoney and Norm, but that Michigan Championship Wrestling artifact is not for sale.
“Feb. 25 we’re doing a wrestling show that benefits 4-H,” with Hardcore Harry and half a dozen grapplers doing a signing in their store beforehand.
“He holds the heavyweight belt for Indiana and has been in Japan,” said Bruce, who graduated from Union High School in 1977 and lives in Sodus. “I checked out their show in Mishawaka.”
Fred, of Decatur, retired from Lee Memorial Hospital after 19 years in maintenance.
Fishing is one of many passions, evident from the first booth right inside the door, which opens from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday winter hours and stays open until 5 in the summer.
Fred, who showed tractors and fixed riding lawnmowers, has a more than 30-year background in auctioneering, which he learned at a school in Mason City, Iowa. Bruce has been his dad’s “ring guy,” holding up items and watching for bids.
The other side of the front show window is like a little book store, with bikes and sleds and a rocking horse displayed outside on the sidewalk, not far from George’s Cafe, which occupies the former bank which had been Bonnie and Clyde’s. The restaurant contributes foot traffic.
“We’re getting over the hump now,” Bruce said. “Like I told the guy when I signed the lease, it takes three, four, sometimes five years to get a business up and running like it should. A lot of dealers buy stuff from me.”
Phonograph records? Vinyl albums, 45 rpm singles, even 78s. The Statler Brothers, who performed at the Cass County Fair, Christmas album is available. Or, Gary Puckett, who also sang in Cassopolis.
Aisles are wide so Becky, Bruce’s wife of 24 years who collects Teddy bears and who suffered a stroke at 53 on Aug. 8, 2010, can navigate while setting up seasonal displays.
The other Hutson women include Alice, wife and mother, who also retired from the Dowagiac hospital; and Barbara, daughter and sister, who lives in Elkhart.
Fred was a lifelong Dowagiac resident who moved to Decatur from Sister Lakes.
“It’s something different every day,” the supposed retiree said. “You never know. One minute you think you’re going to get stuck with stuff, then someone picks it up.”