A man and his collection: Verhulst turns old Reeder grocery store into collection room

The old grocery store in Reeder—U-Save—isn’t stocked with milk and bread any more, but the shelves aren’t empty.

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By COLE BENZ | Record Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

The old grocery store in Reeder—U-Save—isn’t stocked with milk and bread any more, but the shelves aren’t empty.

Over the course of a few decades Gerald Verhulst has been a hobbyist collector, and the number of items he possesses is large enough to fill the old store.

Verhulst spent his professional life in the construction business, and through that work he was afforded easy access to dumping grounds and construction digging sites, locations he said was where many of his items were found.

Verhulst and his family took possession of the building that was previously a beauty shop (after the grocery store), and he had intended on turning it into a large garage. But when Verhulst and his wife moved out of Reeder to Hettinger, he modified his plans.

His collection was previously housed in his basement at home, but it outgrew the space and he moved it to the building.

Verhulst has kept record of his visitors. There is a little note pad sits in front of the entrance to the main area, and visitors are asked to sign their names and include their home town. It is filled with pages of the names of visitors from all over the place, including Canada and England.

The gentleman from England was in the Reeder area taking photos of old elevators. He told Verhulst that he came to the United States through New York, and that he rented a car with best gas mileage to tour the country.  He told Verhulst that it was an affordable trip because of the price of gas in this country. In England he would pay over $8 per gallon.

A cycling club traveling from southern California once stopped in Reeder and visited with Verhulst. The group stayed in touch and Verhulst has a collection of post cards from each stop of their journey, that culminated in Florida.

Visitors taking a peek at his collection can see remnants of the old store hiding behind his collection. The coolers and food shelves act as display cases, and a closer look will reveal grocery details left in place when the store closed in the late 80s, price tags are still attached to the displays.

Verhulst finds anything interesting; and if it’s not unique enough, he makes it unique. While some items can be observed in their original form, many are not what they seem. Some on display can be seen painted, glued, screwed, cut, sanded and altered, and they may require a second glance to recognize what it is, or what it was.

His items range from drift wood projects and old radios to antique toys and classic furniture.

One of the more interesting pieces is a section of linoleum displaying a scene from the iconic ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ found in a home he use to live in with his family.

“It’s just a hobby,” Verhulst said.

One time around the old store may seem like adequate time to look at everything, but Verhulst said it may take more tours to observe everything, and that may not be enough.

“You can look around two, three times and still miss something,” Verhulst said.

Verhulst also opened the building to morning coffee drinkers. Shortly after taking ownership the convenient store closed, so he thought he would put the coffee pot on and see who came to converse. This also helped him meet outside visitors.

“On Main Street in the morning, there’s nothing open, and I”d always be down here, so whenever there was a tourist or somebody looking for gas and there’s not place to go, I’d always open and they’d come in,” Verhulst said.

Verhulst said his favorite part of his hobby is “just doing it,” and he thinks he will keep collecting.

“If I see something, yeah,” Verhulst said.

The building is not open with regular hours, and Verhulst doesn’t like to advertise his collection too much, but added that if someone is visiting Reeder to just come knock on the door. If he’s there he’ll gladly show give a tour and share a cup of coffee with them.