Pickers roll through the ‘Wack

It's early on a Sunday morning and the Canadian Pickers' sights are set on the Wellington Emporium in downtown Chilliwack.

The Wellington Emporium hosted the Canadian Pickers cast and crew including co-host Scott Cozens

The Wellington Emporium hosted the Canadian Pickers cast and crew including co-host Scott Cozens

Cast and crew of the new TV show, Canadian Pickers, cruise into town in a big white van.

It’s early on a Sunday morning and their sights are set on the Wellington Emporium in downtown Chilliwack.

Show hosts Sheldon Smithens and Scott Cozens jump out of the van onto the quiet street, intent on doing some on-camera deals inside the store.

They’re ready to pay cash on the barrelhead for the best stuff. But make no mistake, they don’t pay retail, and therein lies the rub — and the drama — that makes this kind of television so exciting.

Pickers call the treasures they find “rusty gold,” and the goal of any “pick” is getting those items for just the right price — under retail — with room for a decent profit to make it worth their while.

When the dickering is done, and they’ve settled on a price, the pickers are ready to “pop.”

The sprawling Emporium in downtown Chilliwack owned by Wayne Learie, is a beautiful hodgepodge of collectibles, antique furniture and pop culture memorabilia.

Learie, a former antiques dealer himself, and “a cold door-knocker” for 25 years, says he’s tickled to host the two-day TV shoot at his store.

“It’s been quite exciting for Chilliwack,” he tells the Progress.

The art of “picking” antiques and collectibles has become insanely popular in the past couple of years, and it’s spread to reality TV. There are huge audience numbers being recorded recently for shows like American Pickers, and the same goes for Auction Kings, Pawn Stars and more.

Production of Canadian Pickers comes hot on the heels of the recent success of American Pickers, which was sitting in the #2 spot on the History Television lineup last fall.

“It’s just gone crazy,” Learie says. The store has also been creating a buzz lately on its own, and is gaining a reputation for some rather rare items.

“Some of the other merchants have been telling me it’s drawing in traffic to the downtown.”

The premise of Canadian Pickers, which premieres on the History Channel in April 2011, has the hosts scouring barns, attics, and backyards for antiques, collectibles and more. They made a bit of an exception to include a shoot at Learie’s store.

“Are you here to grind me?” Learie asks the the two hosts as they arrive for the shoot. The term “grind” is used here to mean something akin to driving a hard bargain when doing a deal.

Smithens is an antique dealer, auctioneer and appraiser by trade, and his co-host Cozens, is a lawyer, former hockey player and life-long picker, according to the promo for the show.

The future Chilliwack episode, which will air in July, will see the Calgary-based duo clad in western gear, pouring over some skookum Pacific Northwest Coast art.

Tucked in between the pinball machines, and a massive Incredible Hulk figure, they are some stunning aboriginal masks, rattles, and totem poles by some of the best aboriginal carvers on the coast.

The show reps got wind of Learie’s appraisal ability and collection strength by word of mouth, and decided to give it a go at the store.

“Neither of us knew Wayne before,” says Smithens. “But we’d been searching the West Coast for contacts when his name came up.”

When he got the call from the show’s reps, Learie was in the basement of a stone heritage house in Langley, buying antiques, as usual.

He’d appraised some of the items obtained from their earlier Fraser Valley picks in the first go-around of shooting. The crew now wanted to head back to the ‘Wack for more shooting, after scoring a great appraisal on the native mask they bought.

“We’ve been all across Canada, but we love B.C.,” Smithens adds.

On the Chilliwack pick, Smithens and Cozens honed right in on West Coast art, specifically Learie’s collection of native masks.

“Overall B.C. has been great, even though it was hit and miss at times,” says Cozens. “We had a couple of total burn-outs and a couple of really good picks.”

Part of the show’s appeal will centre on the hosts’ vibrant personalities.

“I was born ready!” Cozens yelled when the director asked if they were ready to start shooting a scene.

Clad in tan suede jacket and feathered cowboy hat, he’d been trying on a pair of leather chaps for size, in the western gear section of the store.

His partner Smithens was admiring a hand-carved cane made out of a narwhal tusk inlaid with gold and silver, that came with its own set of official transportation papers. Later that day it would sell for a cool $4,500.

“The good stuff is in high demand,” Learie explains.

As Smithens peruses the store’s vast collection, he can be heard muttering something rhythmic and rhyming under his breath. Turns out he is practising a tricky auctioneer’s tongue-twister that includes lines like: “…but this butter’s bitter, if I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter…”

Last Sunday was the second time the TV crew was in Chilliwack. On this drizzly morning in Chilliwack, they were hot on the trail of a stunningly beautiful mask by Kwakwaka’wakw carver Beau Dick called Wealthy Woman.

The Beau Dick piece was part of Learie’s million-dollar collection of Northwest native art, of which he’s sold about three-quarters to date, and counting.

But it was too late for that deal. They discover to their dismay the large gorgeous mask that had caught their eye had sold right out from under them in the time they’d been gone — and it went for the full retail price of $12,500 to boot.

They were hoping to pay substantially less.

“They lost out on some things, but that’s business after all,” says Learie. “I couldn’t change the way the store works. That’s what I told them. Business is business.”

The negotiations were rather tough. Despite missing out on the Beau Dick mask, they ended up closing a few deals on some other pieces worth thousands nonetheless, and everyone went away happy, he adds.

“The show will go out on a bang,” Learie promises.