A short conversation with Doug Moen

Last year, during the January in Duluth project, I wandered into Doug Moen’s antique store with photographer Kip Praslowicz. Doug was very generous with Kip and me, two oddballs who wandered off the street to take up some of his time. And from what I’ve gathered, that seemed to be his M.O. During our short time together, he was warm, funny, honest, and so perfectly at home in his store, with his junk.

Doug and I recorded a short conversation while Kip took the photograph in a previous post. I never ended up making an audio piece from the recording, as I’d hoped, but I did make a transcription of the interview. Kip encouraged me to post it here for anybody who might be interested.

D: So! What do you want to know about?

A: I would like to know, first, what you do.

D: I sell antiques and collectables and paraphernalia and oddities and quiddities. And vintage clothing.

A: How long have you been doing it?

D: Hmmm. I got out of the Navy in 1967 — I think I had my first store in 1970.

A: What got you in?

D: I like old junk! Yeah. I like old clothing, I like old cars. I used to be called Doug the Rug, because I started with antique rugs.

A: So. Uh. Junk. What is junk?

D: Junk has a recyclable value to it. It can be reused. It’s a term — maybe we should put a Q-U-E on it. That make it sound better? *Laughs*

J-U-N-Q-U-E. Jun-kee…

A: Jun-quay.

D: Jun-quay, okay. That’ll work.

What else do you want to know?

A: Where was your first shop?

D: My first shop was in Duluth. And then, I had one more and five or six more after that. And then I moved to Superior and I had some stores in Superior. Now I’m back in Duluth. That’s all.

And I had a shop in Minneapolis for a little while.

A: Okay. What kind of junk does Duluth have?

D: It has some pretty good junk. The older something is, it’s probably made better. So, if it’s still around, it means it might still be around for the next unforeseeable future. What they make today can be good, but it costs a lot if you want something good. And then, a lot of it’s made out of plastic and designed to deteriorate fast. So, I like the old stuff better.

A: So people come in and sell you this junk all the time?

D: Unfortunately, there’s more people coming in to sell us stuff then there are people buying it. Our only hope is that the tourist season is going to be good again. Last year we really enjoyed their company, and I hope they enjoyed ours.

A: What do you look for when somebody brings something in?

D: Oh… I like breweriana — old beer stuff in other words. I like advertisements. I like vintage clothing and I like primitives and I like oak furniture and I like mid-century furniture. Stuff from the 60s and 70s — the stuff that goes on top of shag carpeting — wrought iron and things of that nature.

A: Tell me why. What about you –

D: Why? Because I lived with it. I grew up with it.

A: Junk?

D: Mmhm. My father collected stuff — it rubbed off on me in a very good way. But my Mom liked new furniture, so I got to see mid-century furniture when I was growing up.

A: Tell me about your dad.

D: Oh, my dad would always find something that was still good, too good to throw away, that was quite usable. He would always try to buy something used because it had already proved the test of time. Also, I think he recognized the quality of workmanship.

I’m not saying they still can’t make something good today. They do. It just costs an arm and a leg. And if you can buy somebody’s thing that they don’t have use for anymore, they will be glad to get rid of it at a reasonable price.

Oh that’s a nice box. (Doug notices Kip’s camera.)

Really? Wow! That’s great! That is impressive.

(Doug realizes he’s going to be in a picture.)

Well, can I get my bowler? I have to get my bowler on then!

A: How does the bowler–

(He gets it on.)

D: How’s that?

A: Tell me about this bowler…

D: It’s a bowler! It was designed to replace the top hat. It’s a more casual type of thing that people would have worn, but it was still a bit on the dressy side. And a fedora would be something that you could probably work in because it was soft. But these, if you put a dent in them, they don’t look very good.

A: And then your shirt. Where’d you get these shirts from?

D: Oh! These are probably 1950s wool shirts. Probably designed for hunters or lumberjacks.

A: And junk salesmen.

D: It could be junks salesmen too, now. *Laughs* You’re funny.

(Looks at Kip again.)

That is a nice camera, I’m impressed. That is a good one.

(Doug starts moving around items around the desk for the photo.)

And we have to have our daily sales book. Lots of pens and pencils and price stickers — those are probably the newest thing that we use. We use lots of them.

What’s interesting around here to you? Can I ask you a question?

A: Yes. You want to know my deal?

D: Yeah! What do you like here? What kind of stuff? Does it have to be junk or does it have to be good junk? Or should it be neat stuff?

A: You know, I have a belt buckle.

(I show him my belt buckle.)

D: Oooh. They’re collectable.

(We discuss belt buckles for :30)

D: Yeah, I don’t knock everything new. Not everything. A piece of workmanship that’s well done is, in fact, a good piece of workmanship, right? No matter what. It’s just that there was more back then than there is now.

We’re in a rush today — we can’t afford to build anything good.

A: Do you think about the people that owned all this stuff?

D: Oh yes! Some things have a nice nostalgic feeling because I knew that particular person. But, it’s not like we’re buying stuff from people that have passed on. We buy stuff from people that no longer have use for that particular item. A lot of people just want to lighten their load these days — they just can’t afford to keep a large space anymore. Everybody’s condensing, condensing, condensing — even their cars are smaller.

So. I don’t know.

A: And they bring it to you.

D: Oh. I’m tired. I had a long day. I’m just counting the minutes now. We’ll be closing in about an hour and then I have to go move furniture.

A: Do you love this?

D: Oh, I like it a lot. I don’t know if I love it or not, but there are certain things that I do love. I think I like good vintage clothing the best. Next to that, I like Persian rugs, or Navajo, of course. They’re all hand-tied and hand-knotted, of course.

And I don’t pretend to know a lot about them anymore. I used to get a turn-on by knowing what tribe it was from — it was an early nomadic tribe — but now I just like a nice looking rug. And it doesn’t matter if there are knots or holes or wear spots — I think that adds character. A lot of people like something that’s absolutely mint and that doesn’t bother me. I’ll take the ones with chips and dents home. And the rugs with the holes and the wear spots or the rips. Doesn’t bother me a bit.

A: Does all this stuff ever drive you crazy?

D: Yes. Sometimes you get overwhelmed when you have to move it. Sometimes you have to move your whole store. I’ve done that many times. It’s no fun. No fun. I had one store — it took me two years to set it up. It took me 6 months to break it down and box it up and haul it away.

But, it’s not a bad business to be in.

You see a lot of desperation. You see a lot of people that are desperate now and that’s sad. They’re out of money and they need cigarettes or gas in their tank or rent or diapers. Those seem to be the most common ones, it seems like. Or they have a debt to pay. But a lot of them — mostly, I’d say the number reason they sell things is for cigarettes. They need their cigarettes.

I don’t smoke, but I buy a lot of cigarettes, I tell ya.

A: Do you ever feel bad turning people away?

D: Yeah, that’s tough too. Because they have something that they think is collectable, and it unfortunately isn’t always the case. It may have been at one time, but fads change. People get into different things. We’re rather eclectic here, we have a little bit of everything, so there’s a real good chance we can please the customer.

But that isn’t always the case — some people want a higher end piece. Of course we’d like to get high end stuff, but the common practical goods type of things sell better. Like, take an old lamp that isn’t stained glass but it’s comfortable around the house still. Or an ash tray — an old ash tray that has character. An old picture on the wall if you’ve got an old cracked-wall apartment, a nice old picture looks pretty good. Put a brand new sparkly picture up there and it doesn’t make the wall look very good.

I think older things have a comfort zone to them.

(Pause.)

So did you get a good picture? You haven’t taken one?

(Turns back.)

I don’t know what else I can tell you about this except that I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’ve had about 18 store. That’s a lot of stores over the years.

A: What do you think your role is in the city?

D: Oh boy. I think I’m a great supplier of cigarettes. I tell ya — I never have bought so many things so they can get cigarettes. It’s unbelievable.

A: So when people are coming in to look for something…

D: They get a lot small stuff. Small things. We have a lot of smalls here. A lot of people think it’s strange that I’ll sell a lot of 5 dollar items. Why not sell one 50 or 200 dollar item? Well, this is what I get and this is what I do. I’ll sell 5 things for 3 dollars apiece and some of the other dealers will sell one thing for 50. It takes up a lot of space and it’s a lot of handiwork to deal with one 1 dollar item when you can deal with one 50 dollar item.

So, I deal in hundreds and hundred of little things.

A: Do you think you’re in Duluth for the rest of your life?

D: I know I am! *Laughs* I can’t afford to leave! I have too much stuff to move.

A: How do you feel about that?

D: I wish I could travel a little more, but it’s okay. I get tired at night — I don’t feel like driving. But, it’s a good town. It really is. So is Superior. They’re both nice cities. Good people, you know.

You know, we’re right on 1st Street, which is supposedly where the bad stuff happens — it’s not that bad. There’s a few alcoholics that stumble in and there’s a little bit of stuff going on after dark out there, but they don’t bother us. It’s not that bad.

4 Comments

baci

about 2 years ago

"I think older things have a comfort zone to them." -- Thanks for posting this Adam.

Herzog

about 2 years ago

And though I knew him not, would probably guess he knew the one thing most don't -- especially the Cheney's of the world -- that You Can't Take it With You.

wildgoose

about 2 years ago

Hi Adam, If you are willing to part with the audio file from your interview I would be very happy to work it up into a free standing interview with you. Depending on what Kip has we might be able to make a short "video" together with his images and your interview. You should have my email address from this post.

cgapperi

about 2 years ago

What about the bowler picture? That would be so Doug. Putting together pictures for 'slide show' during memorial.

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