Frank Fritz shares stories about 'American Pickers' at FRY Fest
There was plenty of star power to go around at the southern end of the Corridor Friday. President Barack Obama's visit drew crowds to Iowa City and the focus was on football Friday at FRY Fest in Coralville. Among the former coaches and players, though, was another familiar face -- Frank Fritz from The History Channel show "American Pickers." Fritz, a native of Bettendorf, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 Hawkeye fans at the Coralville Marriott, sharing his insights on antiques and collectibles and answering questions about his life on a reality show. On "American Pickers," Fritz and his co-host, Mike Wolfe, drive around the countryside each week, visiting homeowners who may be willing to part with some of their "junk," which Fritz and Wolfe then resell to collectors. The show has made 'picking' a household word and has made Fritz and Wolfe reality television celebrities. Fritz explained that what seems like a simple show is actually much more complicated behind the scenes. Wolfe and Fritz are joined by more than a dozen cameramen, sound technicians, directors and producers, and they travel with a fleet of vehicles including a U-Haul truck, several vans and a motor home. Fritz joked that when you see them load an antique into their white van on the show, they often take it right back out of the van once the camera's turned off and put it into the larger U-Haul truck. Fritz said they also buy many more items than what they can show, and he admits to sometimes being surprised by what they do or don't feature on the show. "They don't show about 80 percent of what they film," he says, noting that he thinks the network cuts out some of his and Wolfe's best jokes. Fritz and Wolfe, who have known each other since the 8th grade and spend the majority of their time on the road together often working seven long days a week. As the show has grown in popularity, it's become harder for the team to quietly roll into town. It's not unusual for a crowd of 300 to 400 people to show up to catch a glimpse of them filming, often asking for autographs. "It's overwhelming at times," Fritz says. Long before they got their own show, the two friends would videotape some of their picks to show family and friends. It took them five years to sell the idea to a network and they're now wrapping up their fourth season with The History Channel. Answering questions from the audience, Fritz showed the same self-deprecating humor that he has on the show. Joking about his weight, he said, "The camera puts on 10 pounds. There's three cameras on me, so there's 30 pounds." He joked that he and Wolfe "may not be the smartest guys in the room," but that they know a lot about certain antiques. He described Wolfe as having a mental rolodex, able to remember lots of details about collectibles. One thing Fritz can't remember are all the places they've been over the years, admitting he wishes they had kept track "on a Rand McNally map or something" so they could revisit some picks again. Talking about his co-host Mike Wolfe, Fritz said, "Although people think we're connected at the hip, we do have separate lives." Wolfe, who now lives in Nashville, runs a store there as well as a small collectible store in LeClaire, Iowa. Fritz runs a shop called Frank Fritz Finds in Savannah, Illinois, about 30 miles away. He drew comparisons between himself and Wolfe. While Mike Wolfe buys and sells more high-end antiques, Fritz sees himself as more of a middle of the road seller, offering items at a lower price point. Wolfe doesn't try to clean up an antique before reselling it; Fritz said he often tries "to restore it just enough so you can see how it would have been." A collector at heart, Fritz admitted he has 60 motorcycles, "most of which run." He also has a large collection of antique fire equipment. He joked that his own house is full of antiques, so he is trying to whittle down his collections. When asked what Hawkeye fans should be collecting, Fritz urged the audience to buy what you like, but if you do have the choice, to always buy the highest quality item you can. He noted that just as "location, location, location" is important in real estate, in picking, it's "condition, condition, condition." When asked about his favorite part of the country, Fritz said that you can't beat the sense of history on the East Coast, specifically mentioning Pennsylvania. "They don't have towns there, they have townships," he joked. Fritz admitted to having a warm place his heart for the Iowa City area and the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, where he has been coming for more than 20 years for treatment of Crohn's disease, a gastrointestinal auto-immune disorder. Never one to take the day off, Fritz admitted he was actually picking up a motorcycle later that day that he had been trying to buy from someone for more than 20 years. Taking his reality show fame in stride, Fritz said, "When the show goes off the air, I'll still be the same guy, living in the same house and driving the same truck."