Pop’s knoz novelteez

Published 8:09 pm Sunday, July 25, 2010

U.S. 12 roadside attraction keeps on without its namesake



Mark Debbie Bradley’s words: The nose will rise again.

The website Roadsideamerica.com has christened Pop’s Noze home to the “World’s Largest Fake Nose and Glasses;” however, the site has since been updated and notes that it is in storage.

“I bet we get four, five people in here a month to look for the nose,” Bradley said.

The famous fiberglass nose she is referring to previously attracted passersby from its perch atop the store in Michigan City, Ind., but it’s been a long, hard trip for Pop’s Noze from that site to its current location in New Buffalo Township, just over the state line in Michigan.

Bradley has lived at her current home on 14.5 acres behind the store since 1980.

“I hired and fired 500 people in a company (Tandem Transport),” she said.

In 1990, she decided she wanted to change her career path.

“It just sort of clicked in my brain,” she said. “I started selling produce.”

She set up shop outside an old Martin Oil gas station with a caved in roof. A friend gave her a Winnebago as her “office.”

“My husband and I didn’t borrow a dime,” she said. Her husband, Ross, is a truck driver who now takes summers off to help her with the store. He and Jill Gorbonosenko, who has been with them for 15 years, are the only regular employees.

Bradley took note that many U.S. 12 motorists overlooked her small stand, and decided she needed something to make Pop’s Produce — named after her father — stand out.

“I had a lot of people who were passing me by,” she said.

Ross created and erected the famous — and eventually infamous — nose, eyeglasses, mustache and eyebrows. He mounted it on their stand in Michigan City with a crane.

The current store name came to be after customers nicknamed it “the Nose.”

“People named us ‘Pop’s Noze,'” Bradley said.

In December 1999, a gas station company aggressively pursued the purchase of their property, which was located about a mile from its current location.

“Finally, they gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Bradley said.

Her Indiana neighbors may have loved the larger-than-life nose, but New Buffalo Township in Michigan was a different story. The township board refused to allow them to erect the nose and eyeglasses because it apparently violated its sign ordinance. They also fought zoning issues for several years before finally reopening in 2005.

Ross built a 110-by-100-foot pole barn in front of their house, which includes a working greenhouse, showroom and storage. The nose, however, eventually moved into storage, and has since deteriorated.

“His winter project is to fix the nose,” Bradley said of her husband.

Because all of their roadside signs also violated the township ordinance, they fastened them — all purposely misspelled — onto a yellow semi parked on the property. The semi, which is working and licensed, does not qualify as a sign. One township citizen had demanded their signs be banned because their misspellings would negatively affect schoolchildren.

“Have you ever heard of marketing?” Bradley said in disgust. “We did that on purpose so people would remember us.”

Eventually, she said, “produce went flat” when the supermarkets went up.

Someone suggested she sell concrete statuary. They purchased $500 worth — about $1,500 today.

“We bought little frogs, little rabbits. They started buying this stuff left and right,” Bradley said.

The pole barn contains a dizzying variety of antiques — from Singer sewing machines to women’s hats to china hutches. In fact, Bradley bought eight semis’ worth of items from estate sales; they are now down to only two. Looking for Wade’s knickknacks, which were included in British tea boxes? Those are $5. How about a round ice box, complete with lazy susan? That’ll be $5,000. From complete dish sets to costume jewelry to hand-knitted outfits for concrete geese, Pop’s has an eclectic selection of oddities and collectibles, or as Bradley puts it: “A little of everything, not a whole lot of one thing.”

Bradley also maintains a greenhouse with potted flowers and raises 32 live peacocks that roam the property. Their feathers are sold after mating season to pay for their feed.

“The poor peacocks even have to work around here,” Gorbonosenko said with a laugh.

Has Bradley’s fight to keep the nose in Pop’s Noze gone down in defeat? You bet it hasn’t.

She has learned that the nose does not actually constitute a sign because it has no lettering on it. The nose, she claims, will be back to its rightful place next year.

“This is one of the last breeds of our mom and pops,” Bradley said. “You go around the area, there’s not so many of us anymore. People come from all over because we are unique.

“You have to like what you do,” Bradley explained as she drove her golf cart — she calls it her “buggy” — around the driveway. “Otherwise, it’s no fun, you know?”

Pop’s Noze is open Wednesday through Monday from April 1 through Halloween, then Friday through Sunday through Christmas. It is closed January through March. Pop’s Noze is located at 19325 U.S. Highway 12, New Buffalo, near the Indiana border. It can be reached at (269) 469-1079.