PORTAGE — Mr. Haney likes a good deal.
That’s why he no longer has the 1951 International truck that led to his nickname from the character in Green Acres, the sitcom from the 1960s and early ’70s.
Bruce Miller bought the gated flatbed in 1995 for $500, but sold it a few weeks ago for $7,000 after considerable restoration work on the interior over the last 20 years.
Even though the truck that Miller used to haul his finds is gone, his business still stands out in downtown Portage. But only partially due to his store’s barn-red facade.
Miller, 54, runs Mr. Haney’s Antiques & Collectibles at 2261/2 W. Wisconsin St., billed as the smallest antiques and collectibles store in Wisconsin. An address of 2261/8 or maybe even 226 1/16 would be more accurate.
“Room here is a commodity,” Miller said. “It’s my showcase, and my home away from home.”
Albeit a tiny home.
The 84-square-foot space is narrower and shorter than most grocery aisles. At 4 feet, 7 inches wide and 21 feet, 3 inches long, only six people can be in the store at a time, according to the fire code, although that would likely be a squeeze. Most customers can stretch out their arms and touch both side walls, that is if they can find a spot not covered by a painting, wooden plates, a Mr. T kite and women’s hats. The shelves are filled with old soda and beer bottles, jewelry, toy cars, vintage tea cups, Star Trek figurines, and salt and pepper shakers.
“We’ve never had any problems with him,” said Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson Jr., whose department inspects businesses for fire code violations. “It’s a small shop, but he’s up to code with everything. There’s not much room for customers, but he’s allowed to have the business.”
The narrow space even includes an office in the back where Miller has a cash register, television and a bulletin board filled with business cards from those who specialize in certain categories of collectibles, including railroad, advertising, radios, record albums, bottle openers and pocket knives.
There’s a sink, too, but it doubles as a stand for his laptop computer thanks to a board over the basin. On days when it’s not raining or snowing, Miller shows some of his items outside. Last week, the display included a leather jacket, an antique easel with a chalkboard and one of his homemade wine glass racks constructed by attaching an old iron rake to a piece of barn board.
“I couldn’t sell the rakes for nothing, but I turn them around and hang wine glasses on them and I get $30 for them,” he said with a chuckle. “I sell anything and everything. Almost every day, I make a big sale.”
Some of those sales are through eBay, where Miller has up to 50 items at any given time up for auction. He recently sold a $75 flute to a buyer in India who paid $100 in shipping. A Gettelman beer sign he bought for $5 sold for $890.
His retail outlet, however, gives the business character and the city’s downtown a working conversation piece. It’s located between the more modern looking Studio K Hair Design and Soul Shine Spa and on the same block as the Percolator Coffee Shop, Bread of Life Book Store and the Rainbow Thrift Shoppe. The Portage Canal, completed in 1876 to connect the Fox River with the Wisconsin River, is just down the street.
Miller lives in an apartment above the store, pays nominal rent for the retail space and has about $5,000 in sales a year. Miller has spoken to people at Guinness, who have told him they would send someone by if they’re in the neighborhood, so for now Miller is claiming that it’s the state’s smallest.
“No one has ever questioned me on it,” Miller said. “People come in just to see how small it is.”
Miller grew up on a pig farm near Omro in Winnebago County, but his father was also an elementary school teacher for the Oshkosh School District for more than 30 years. The rural life exposed Miller to hard work, got him involved with Future Farmers of America, where he took part in meat judging, and introduced him to auctions and rummaging for discarded items with value.
After graduating from Oshkosh West High School in 1980, he attended Fox Valley Technical College to learn meat cutting. He eventually worked in a grocery store, but has never been content in one place or with one particular career. Miller, who is divorced with two sons and four grandchildren, has had stints at Fleet Farm, Service Master and a cemetery where he mowed the grass and helped with burials and cremations.
Miller moved to Portage in 1999 for a job at B.J.’s TV & Appliance but has also worked at Saint-Gobian Performance Plastics; Vesta, an injection molding company; cleaned houses and spent several years in the housekeeping department at Devine Savior Healthcare.
Opened store in 2006
In 2006, while still working full-time, he opened his store, which at one time was home to Just Jewelry and years ago was used as a spot for carriers to pick up newspapers. Miller thinks his small space may once have actually been a hallway that connected the buildings on each side of his, one of which had been a hotel.
“I have such a perfect spot, and the community has been so great,” Miller said. “I try to keep it as cozy as possible.”
In 2010, chronic arthritis in a leg and an Achilles tendon injury forced him to quit his jobs, which allowed him to devote his full attention to his store. Miller scours garage sales and flea markets and works with families trying to get rid of estates. He also gets donations from people who don’t have the time or the energy to deal with unwanted items.
Miller, an avid fisherman, is at his shop seven days a week typically from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. where he also repairs jewelry, lamps, fans, vacuum cleaners and other small appliances and knits scarves. The front of his store used to be painted to mimic the back of the colorful bus used by the Partridge Family in that 1970s ABC sitcom but he painted it red after some raised eyebrows by the city. Miller recently got a credit card machine, which he says has been a boon to his business, and also sells at flea markets in warmer months in Baraboo, Montello, Columbus and in Adams County.
“It gives me a chance to get out and do a little advertising,” Miller said. “I have a real regional following of people who come through the shop.”
But because of the size, customers must often wait outside for other shoppers to leave. If they look up, they’ll see a horseshoe tacked above the door. The open end of the horseshoe points up for good luck.
“Luckily, the luck hasn’t run out on that deal,” Miller said. “I’m just trying to be a small business in a small town.”