Richard Schwinden of North St. Paul, owner of Mr. Zero's, a used-entertainment shop in Roseville, has become a kind of public figure. Often when he's out and about he hears the greeting, "Hey, Mr. Zero," from random people.
Mr. Zero's -- the name references a 1968 episode of the Monkees TV show -- carries a wide assortment of retro video games, books, toys, CDs, vinyl records, cassettes, VHS tapes, turntables and memorabilia.
It's a place that "brings back memories, hopefully for the better," he said.
Over a handful of years, the store -- which he bills as "pop culture heaven" -- has garnered many regulars that cut across all demographics. One customer has a Flintstones shrine; another is into pinball machines.
Many don't own computers, aren't "phone people," and have a creative bent, he said. Schwinden has also noticed a large number of lefties.
Whatever brings them into the colorful, jam-packed store initially, they come back for the sense of community.
Minneapolis resident Andrew Schaal, whom Schwinden has nicknamed "Secret Agent Andy" after a song from rocker Johnny Rivers, vouched for that.
Schaal, who started coming to the shop several years ago, likes to talk "nerdy pop culture" topics with Schwinden and whoever else happens by.
"When I go there, I budget two hours," he said. "I always compare it to the 'High Fidelity' movie. It's a very friendly meeting place of like-minded folks."
This month the shop is gearing up for its busy season. As people are spring-cleaning their homes, usually between February and April, they come in to sell items or trade up, Schwinden explained.
Often he's privy to the objects' back-stories, some of which are sad, related to death or divorce. But it's heartening to know that an item will go to a new home. "Maybe this person doesn't want something anymore and someone else does," he said.
In preparation for the coming months, the shop is doing some spring cleaning of its own. Schwinden is revamping the shop's setup, "focusing on the things that sell and dumping those that do not," he said.
A staff "picker" who goes out to all kinds of local and national sales to find merchandise is doing so strategically, with a "punch list" of the best-selling or most-requested items. For example, "I can't get in enough Twisted Sister T-shirts," he said.
Schwinden tries to anticipate what kinds of collectibles will be sought-after next. It comes down to "How cool was it when it came out originally?"
For example, the Beatles are a mainstay, but he doesn't see "The Twilight Saga" -- the vampire book and movie series -- carrying over into the future. But then, he never would've guessed that the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" characters would make a comeback.
"I wonder about 'The Hunger Games' right now," he said.
A love for products and people
Schwinden's love for music and pop culture trivia comes in handy in this line of work.
It also helps that he's done all sorts of things professionally. Schwinden is a stand-up comic and a music writer, with various book and movie projects in the works. The shop owner also has supplied props for several locally made science fiction movies, some of which he's acted in, like the "Attack of the Moon Zombies," which was released in 2011.
The challenge is that the market is changing. "Having realized the Internet destroyed the music and collectibles retail market," Schwinden said, "I felt there were many fans that were displaced," and still wanted the human connection.
While that's still true today, he said, "this type of shop is a dying breed."
But Schwinden keeps going because "I love the products and the people," he said, adding: "I love learning new things about old items. I think there are others who do, too."
St. Paul resident Theresa Anderson, whose teenage son, Jackson Ruiz, is interning at the shop, confirmed that. She recently spotted "The Bad News Bears" movie, something she'd forgotten about. "When I was a teenager, I would've loved to have had half of that stuff," she said.
Anna Pratt is a Twin Cities freelance writer.