SHERIDAN — Give Luke Knudson just a few minutes of your time and he’ll make you forget that he’s just 14 years old.
He doesn’t act like a typical teenager and he doesn’t talk like one either. In fact, he prides himself on having a more sophisticated vocabulary than most people his age.
“You have to be very professional with it,” Knudson said of running his own business. “You have to treat it as the utmost priority, especially to impress people older than you.”
About one year ago, Knudson opened The Old General Store Antiques located at 249 N. Main St. He has about 45 consigners that sell things out of his store and four vendors that have booth spaces in the shop.
His interest in antiques started when he was young — well, younger. Approximately nine years ago, he received a serpentine dresser that had belonged to his grandmother and that took his interest in old items to a new level.
He started by selling items out of the Best Out West Antiques and Collectibles store. He had a couple of shelves in the basement that expanded over time. He later rented space in the Wild West Trading Company. But, Knudson soon decided that the cost of renting spaces didn’t provide the same value as managing his own storefront.
Building owner Steve Kuzara said Knudson came in one day inquiring about the space.
“Usually, you know, with kids coming in you don’t pay much attention,” Kuzara said.
A few weeks later, though, Knudson came back and asked Kuzara if he could make a drawing of the place. He did, and later returned to say he wanted to rent the space. Kuzara let him know his parents would have to co-sign, but Knudson didn’t have an issue with that.
From then, a new partnership of sorts began. Knudson and Kuzara continued work on the shop. Knudson asked permission to remove plaster from walls and restore the original high ceilings, which he did with his father’s help and the help of Kuzara.
“I’ve had other renters that I wish had been as much on the ball as he is,” Kuzara said of working with the teenager.
Knudson said he’s built the business on his own — never taking out loans and paying for things with cash. He made the initial money required for the spaces at Best Out West, Wild West Trading Company and the storefront he now rents by selling items he picked up at yard sales and auctions. He also said he’d complete odd jobs of the remodeling variety to make cash.
Since starting the business about one year ago, Knudson said he’s done well. In addition to the consigners and vendors in his shop, he has an agreement to handle items the owners at the Historic Sheridan Inn hope to sell. In July, when the crew from “American Pickers” comes to Sheridan, Knudson said he expects they’ll visit the inn as well as his shop on Main Street.
Despite not taking a lot of financial help in the form of loans, Knudson said he has had some help along the way. Kuzara has offered advice and answered questions and the Best Out West store allowed Knudson to use its vendor contracts as a template for his own. He also works with an accountant to manage his books.
“He’s a smart kid,” Kuzara said of Knudson. “He’s smart in a different sort of way than kids are usually smart. You know kids might be good at math, or this or that, but the world savvy of bartering, trading and skills like that aren’t things kids develop. He has that down better than most grown-ups do.”
Kuzara said while he’s helped the teen in his business venture, the time has been well worth it because Knudson is honest, hard-working and grateful.
While eventually Knudson said he hopes to attend college and earn a degree, maybe in history, he said he also has a strong interest in real estate.
In the meantime, as Knudson prepares for his freshman year this fall at Sheridan High School, he will continue managing his store, which includes a couple of employees to help man the business when he is unavailable.
In a time, though, when many brick-and-mortar stores are closing and shopping shifts to online retailers, Knudson said he has a lot of faith in his Main Street shop.
“Antique stores are more protected than that,” Knudson said of investing in storefronts while others close.
“Antiques are very specialized; you can’t go online and buy five of whatever you like,” he said.
He added that a storefront selling antiques allows individuals to get a feel for what living with certain items can be like.
Despite his support of brick-and-mortar stores, though, Knudson isn’t averse to technology. He uses websites like eBay to research items and sell items.
No matter the challenges, though, Kuzara said he’s confident in Knudson’s future.