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Looking for a low-voltage motor? A bin of surgical scissors? Inflatable busts of Nobel-winning geneticist Barbara McClintock? Photo slides from a stranger’s 1970s vacation?
You can acquisition all of the aloft on the shelves of St. Paul’s Ax-Man Surplus, which for added than 50 years has awash a alluringly doubtful accumulating of appurtenances that are admired not for what they are, but for what they ability become — inventions, sculptures, science abstracts or actively awful Halloween displays.
There are rows of mannequin heads, glassware busy for occasions accomplished (“Prom 2017”) and a behemothic adamant lung in the average of the “material, crafts, kitchen” aisle. Stage lights ample one display.
There’s a behemothic bin of metal hamster auto and a accession of pingpong assurance busy to attending like eyeballs. Down addition alley sits a accumulating of abnormally shaped accoutrements with a assurance account “Shrunken arch briefcase! Keeping those little guys safe back 1974! $3.95,” which seems advised to entertain as abundant as entice.
Now on its third owner, Ax-Man was created by a altered abracadabra of sorts — a summer appoint concluded up alteration a accepted abatement abundance into a athenaeum breadth abandoned abstracts acquisition new lives. The abundance has managed to survive, affection intact, alike as retail, accomplishment and the types of overstock appurtenances accept changed.
It has remained at Fry Street and University Avenue back 1966, admitting cogent changes in the Midway adjacency that surrounds it. Already home to an “auto row” of car dealerships, the breadth now boasts a ablaze abuse corridor. Allianz Acreage rises nearby.
Started by a accouterment apache alleged Jess Liberman, the abundance was alleged the Man With the Ax (to accord bodies the abstraction that the prices were actively chopped) and awash added accustomed abatement goods, such as baggage and suits.
When University of Minnesota art apprentice David Gray got a summer job at the abundance in 1969, he started gluttonous out automated and automated surplus, the kinds of scrap-yard abstracts he acclimated in his sculptures.
“I accomplished there were lots of companies out there that didn’t apperceive what to do with their extra parts,” Gray said. “And so we absitively to alpha affairs that stuff. And I said we should aloof put it out because, you know, the craving art students, and amphitheater people, and tinkerers, and inventors, the scientists and so forth, would acquisition a use for it.”
He additionally assertive Liberman to be added antic with the abundance signage, with letters that helped barter see the achievability in additional genitalia and abandoned electronics.
“I accomplished appealing aboriginal on that if I watched people, you could see what I alarm the blink in their eyes,” Gray said. “And their accuracy ability affix aloof by attractive at some oddity. Everybody saw altered things in the actual aforementioned item.”
Gray became a accomplice in the business, eventually accepting it. In 2001, he awash it to Jim Segal.
Segal was aggravating to annihilate time afore a cafeteria at the Embers that was already adjacent back he aboriginal wandered into the store. He was absolute away.
“There’s annihilation absolutely like the Ax-Man. Not in Minnesota, not in the nation,” he said.
Since affairs the business, which includes locations in Fridley and St. Louis Park, he’s formed to accumulate the curiosity-shop vibe, abnormally in the St. Paul store.
It helps that some of the staffers accept been there for decades.
Janette Larson, the store’s longtime appointment manager, still remembers the day she started assignment in September 1988. Addition came in and bought a life-size blaze barter replica and she had to advice amount out how to get it outside.
Larson said the abundance is abundantly the aforementioned as it consistently was. “Mostly, the central is the same. We still accept the adamant lung,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t like change. That’s apparently why I’ve backward actuality for so long.”
During Segal’s years active Ax-Man, his admired surplus buy has been an absolute 1960s-era aggressive acreage hospital that had been in accumulator for decades. It took a while, but it has been sold, allotment by piece.
After all, genitalia and pieces are what the store’s all about.
“We buy all sorts of fun stuff. We bought a truckload of baby parts. With our customers, you know, addition could action me the accomplished doll, and we wouldn’t accept that abundant interest,” he said.
But put the genitalia in abstracted bins — heads, arms, legs — and shoppers are intrigued.
“Luckily, bodies don’t booty us too seriously,” Segal said. “We don’t booty ourselves too seriously. We’re aggravating to accept fun.”