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September 26, 2011

Celebrity scavengers find Mainer has the goods

The hosts of 'American Pickers' buy items from Mario Binette during a filming trip to the state.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

Mario Binette considers himself "a low-profile type of guy," but even he couldn't resist going on television when the hosts of his favorite show came knocking.

click image to enlarge

Mario Binette, center, says “American Pickers” hosts Mike Wolfe, left, and Frank Fritz were “just as crazy and nutty as they are on TV” when they visited his business in Arundel last week.

Courtesy Mario Binette

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Mario Binette, operator of Champion Auto in Arundel, used to collect old motorcycles and bicycles, but now he’s focused more on antique toys, signs and gas-station memorabilia.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, hosts of the History Channel show "American Pickers," were scouring the back roads and byways of southern Maine for neglected antiques last week when they stopped at Binette's business, Champion Auto in Arundel. They wanted to check out Binette's collection of old motorcycle and bicycle items and anything else he had stored away.

"I love that show so much, and to have the two guys come here ...," Binette said. "They're just as crazy and nutty as they are on TV, and act just like me."

Wolfe and Fritz arrived in Portland with a production crew on Sept. 14 and spent the next five days snooping around the Wells-Kennebunk region, said Heather Dirubba, a representative of the History Channel. Their last day in Maine was Sunday.

It was the show's first visit to Maine, Dirubba said. The production crew stayed in Portland's Old Port and had dinner at Fore Street while they were here.

Dirubba would not reveal the stops that Wolfe and Fritz made during their stay, but the rumor mill had said that in addition to Champion Auto, the duo visited Bentley's Saloon in Arundel and the Johnson Hall Museum in Wells.

The visit to the museum could not be confirmed. At Bentley's, manager Lisa Zatalava said "American Pickers" was supposed to visit the saloon Sept. 14 after finishing up at Champion Auto, which is right next door, but all they got was an autographed poster. "They were going to try to squeeze us in, but they didn't have enough time," she said.

In an odd coincidence, however, Bentley's got a visit from another History Channel show Monday, "The Hairy Bikers." The BBC show is coming to the United States this fall.

Zatalava said the "Hairy Bikers" production crew filmed in the saloon Monday, and seemed especially interested in the bar's pig roaster, which has motorcycle pipes and handlebars.

"It's two bikers who travel around the country, and they eat things that you would never want to eat," Zatalava said. "We got scouted out because they want to do an American version of the show now. It's supposed to start airing mid-October."

"American Pickers" is about two men, Wolfe and Fritz, who scour the country for potentially valuable items that may have been ignored by others, hoping to resell their finds to collectors, antique stores and museums. They typically rummage through junkyards, old barns, garages and any other place where there could be "buried treasure."

The show apparently learned about Binette and his interest in old motorcycles through a swap meet in Florida. He is a longtime collector who pokes around antique shops and junkyards as a hobby. He rarely sells anything.

"I like the stuff too much, so I wouldn't be a good one to do it as a living," he said. "If I like something, I'm going to buy it no matter what."

Binette is more focused now on collecting antique toys and signs, as well as gas-station memorabilia. But he still has a lot of old motorcycle helmets, and that's one of the things the hosts of "American Pickers" zeroed in on right away.

"I used to be into bikes pretty heavy, and I had antique motorcycle helmets from back in the '70s -- custom-painted ones, Captain America -- and Mike bought that stuff off me," Binette said.

"Mike bought anything motorcycle-related or motorcycle license plate-related, and Frank was the buyer for any gas station stuff. I had banners and oil cans, and that's what he bought off me. He did buy a nice chainsaw sign that I had," Binette said.

(Continued on page 2)

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