Luke Knudson isn’t like most 15-year-olds.

For starters, he writes in cursive, just like his great-grandmother. And like his great-grandmother, he also attended a one-room schoolhouse on the outskirts of rural Sheridan County. 

“I was taught in a one-room school in Arvada, Wyoming, where my great-grandmother was taught. Everything I learned was everything you would learn 80 years ago. I’ve never known print,” Knudson said.

Despite being 15, Knudson is an old soul at heart, and, as one would expect, it carries over into his hobbies. While most of his peers are tossing around a football or claiming the garage for a weekend jam session, Knudson spends his free time in a Main Street storefront, a 2,000 square-foot warehouse full of history.

Knudson might be the youngest entrepreneur in Sheridan. He officially opened his shop, the Old General Store, at age 13. Before that, he was selling antiques at a booth in Best Out West Antiques. Regardless of being a budding businessman, having a shop is merely a byproduct of Knudson’s true passion–history.

Because of this, Knudson operates his business somewhat differently than most entrepreneurs would. Knudson almost always keeps more things than he sells. Almost everything in the store is for sale, but Knudson has a stash of items just for himself. The stash is so big that it’s started to spill over into his warehouse.

“It’s truly my passion, not just something I’m trying to flip as many retailers do,” Knudson said.

In fact, his passion runs so deep that even preparing the storefront turned into a restoration project.

Along with restoring the wood floors, Knudson also exposed the original 1921 brick walls and restored the ceilings to their original height.  Other projects entailed recreating the bathroom, repainting the store in its original colors, and shining up the woodwork.

Like every item Knudson restores, the storefront also has a story to tell.

“This was the red-light district of Sheridan—everything north of Grinnell Plaza was a house of ill repute or something at some time,” Knudson said. “And there were also a whole lot of opium smoking pipes we found lodged in the wall in the back room that kind of told about the building’s past, as well. So, they had a full-on gentleman’s club going in this building when it was built.”

Knudson’s love affair with antiques started slowly and, like most collections, began with a single item. For Knudson, it was a metal candy box from the early 1900s.

“I just was drawn to it,” he said of the box. “I liked the lithographs on it, which is an early form of painting on something before they had photography.”

At the time, 4-year-old Knudson wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Background information on lithographs and turn-of-the-century art wouldn’t come to him until much later.

“I just knew it was old and I liked it,” he said.

As Knudson grew older, he began collecting more and more items, mainly at yard sales and auctions. One day, he had finally amassed enough stuff that he needed to get rid of some of it to make room for more.

“I figured I wanted to try to make a little bit of a business out of it,” Knudson said. “There were things I wanted to sell, and I consigned a few things to the auction house.”

Everything that his business is today stems from a $100 investment that Knudson received when he was around 10 years old.

       “I haven’t ever taken out a loan for anything,” he said. “I’ve paid for it all just from that $100 investment, just building on it, because I can’t take out a loan at my age.”

That $100 has taken Knudson far. From civil war amputation kits to antique stoves, Knudson has a little bit of everything passing through his store. When customers walk in, they are greeted by clusters of antiques so diverse and lively, it appears as though the antiques have gathered for a soiree of past events. A jacket from the Great War sprawls across an old couch. A group of small clocks congregate on the back wall, their click only interrupted by the occasional clang of a clanky, old grandfather clock across the room.

His collection is definitely worth well over $100. In fact, some of the items net more than $3,000 alone.

While some of the items have come from far-away places, many are from Sheridan and the surrounding area. From local auctions to East Coast buying trips, Knudson has engaged in a variety of methods to obtain his merchandise.

“Everything’s unique,” Knudson said. “I’ve never had anything in here that was identical to the previous.”

If customers are looking for anything made after 1950, most likely they’ll be out of luck.

“You won’t find anything modern in here,” Knudson said. “Well, the cash register’s new, but even the sales desk back there is from the Bank of Commerce from the 1930s.”

His collection has something for everyone, from enthusiastic local historians to tourists looking to take home a piece of the authentic West, including music.

Over the years, Knudson has collected thousands of songs from before 1950, copying new tracks to his computer every time he gets a record.

“I actually had a radio station contact me to see if they could use the music,” Knudson said. “Nobody else has it.”

Knudson enjoys the extra business he’s gotten over the years, but money isn’t the only thing that the store’s expansion has gained him. From becoming the treasurer for the Kendrick Mansion to advocating for the restoration of historic buildings around town, the store has given Knudson a respected voice on the issues he’s passionate about, particularly local history.

“I think, as far as Sheridan goes, there’s still quite a bit of history here—more than other parts of Wyoming, definitely,” he said.

Knudson doesn’t know how long he’ll continue running the shop, but his future plans will focus on his work to preserve history. He plans on pursuing a career in real estate after college, with a focus on restoring old houses.

“This was always actually just a hobby of mine,” Knudson said. “It’s grown into more than a hobby—I’ve always been trying to expand upon it—but, as I’ve mentioned before, real estate has piqued my interest, and that’s probably where I’ll head with it,” the 15-year-old said.

The work that Knudson does every day allows him to fight for preservation and share the history that he’s so passionate about. For that journey, the Old General Store is only the first step.

By: T.J. Parks for 82801

Leave a comment