‘American Pickers’: How Mike Wolfe Kept One Small Town Bike Shop in Business

by Clayton Edwards

We have watched Mike Wolfe buy all manner of items on American Pickers. However, those who have watched the show for a while know that Wolfe only truly gets excited about a few things. Bicycles and motorcycles are at the top of that list. That enthusiasm goes all the way back to MIke’s childhood. His first pick was a bicycle. That was the item that introduced him to his lifelong passion.

Mike Wolfe also gets excited over one antique that he’ll never find inside someone’s barn. Wolfe loves old buildings, especially those in historic downtown areas. In fact, he once ran for city council so he could help to preserve a town’s decaying and neglected downtown area.

These two passions converged when Mike Wolfe walked into an old bike shop called The Wheel in Columbia, Tennessee.

How Mike Wolfe Kept the Wheel Rolling

AC Howell opened The Wheel in 1973. At that time, he was working at the local military academy, according to Antique Archeology. He bought a two-story brick building where Columbia residents would come to get their plows and wagons back in the late 1800s and set to work turning it into the small town’s first bike shop.

AC said that everyone was leaving the town square and he wanted to keep it alive. That, in part, is why opened the shop where he did. However, Howell didn’t just want to be a shop owner. He wanted to be a part of the community. So, he employed many local boys. Most of which, he said, worked with him until they left for college. Later, he had the pleasure of watching his previous employees come in as fathers to buy their children bikes. Additionally, he worked with people on payment plans and did all he could to take care of his customers. He also donated used bikes to a church group that refurbished them and gave them to children for Christmas.

At one point, Mike Wolfe came in to look around. The combination of bikes and the old building were like a siren’s song to the picker.

As you would expect, he and AC hit it off quickly. Some years later, Mike Wolfe heard a rumor that Howell planned to retire. So, Wolfe approached him about buying the building. AC eventually agreed. However, he had one condition – the bike shop had to stay.

Mike Wolfe started working with reps from Trek bikes. Then, he realized he didn’t have time to run the store. So, Trek sent him Timothy Wakefield. He was younger than both AC and Mike. However, Wakefield was no less passionate or knowledgeable than the older men. The fact that he and his wife immediately fell in love with the small Tennessee town made things even better for everyone.

Now, Mike Wolfe owns the building and Timothy Wakefield runs the Trek bike shop in the building with AC’s legacy to guide him.

About the outcome, AC Howell said, “Timothy knows what he’s doing. The only advice I passed on to him when opened was to take care of the customers. That was the way I operated and it always served me well.”