Even before he could hang the "Open" sign at his new store, Larry Powley had customers knocking on the windows, pulling at the door handle, wondering when he'd let them in.

His fledgling business wasn't the first of its kind -- it's just an emporium of magazines, comic books, sports cards and pornography -- it just was missed.

Powley and partner Dan Mitchell took over two former stores in the Shinders chain, the 90-year-old Minneapolis company that imploded last year following the owner's arrest on charges of drug possession and its main banker putting the stores into receivership. All 13 locations around the Twin Cities were closed by August.

The end of the quirky, one-of-a-kind newsstand (who else sells Radio Control Car Action magazine?) stranded customers who for years stopped by the suburban strip malls and Hennepin Avenue store in downtown Minneapolis where Shinders had made its home.

"A lot of the clerks were saying, 'We should do something, we should do something,'" said Powley, who had worked at Shinders for 15 years but never had run his own business.

So, taking out second mortgages on both their homes, the partners took over the leases at the former Shinders locations in Maplewood and Minnetonka, selling the same things sold in the old store. Powley even kept the old Shinders signs out front, since the previous owner never took them down.

He incorporated his new company, shed all ties to Shinders, sought advice from a friend's lawyer and the Minnesota attorney general and then came up with a new name for his store: Beyond Shinders.

"Kind of like 'AfterMASH,'" he said recently, laughing.

None of this seemed likely to Powley when he started at Shinders in 1992, rising through the ranks until he worked at the corporate office at 917 5th Av. S. as the "adult guy," ordering the lucrative pornographic magazines and movies the chain quietly sold in the back of its stores.

"I would see the margins on the adult [products] all the time, and it was like, 'There's no way this company should have failed,'" Powley said.

He stuck with the company even as his experience there became increasingly bizarre. Owner Robert Weisberg, who was pulled over by police in June 2006, still faces drug possession charges from that arrest. By the end of 2007, besides closing Shinders, Weisberg had lost his law practice, his collections agency and a Washington Avenue pornography store he ran called the Adult Only Superstore. (It also has been reopened by former employees.)

Powley stuck through it all, even as others quit or were fired, because other than an earlier career in the military, Shinders was his only job. "This is all I know," he said.

Where all the money went remains a mystery to Powley, but one by one the stores were closed as inventory ran out and rent and utility bills went unpaid. Powley said he was at the Shinders Ridgedale store when a sheriff's deputy arrived Aug. 10 to lock everything up.

Soon after, Powley told Weisberg over the phone that he was leaving to open his own store. Weisberg immediately hung up. They haven't spoken since.

Not his power bill

After recruiting Mitchell, a tailgating buddy, the two had enough money to open two stores.

They consulted the attorney general's office, learning that Shinders never trademarked or copyrighted the name. The partners could use the word "Shinders" if they used a descriptive word before it, Powley was told.

But having the Shinders name has its drawbacks. Some vendors wouldn't sell to him at first because they thought he was Shinders, which left unpaid bills with many vendors. Soon after they opened, a power company representative came to the Minnetonka store with an unpaid bill for $27,000. Powley explained, and didn't have to pay it. Some customers even come in with Shinders coupons and Powley has to turn them down.

Still, rising from the ashes of Shinders has been relatively easy. In their first two months, they've surpassed their sales expectations. They hope to open a third store this year. Powley's fiancée no longer worries about the finances, he said.

And he has plans to return the stores to more of their newsstand roots.

"We want to go back to carrying more crazy magazines," he said about his business plan. "We're not a bookstore; we never were. We can't compete with Barnes & Noble. We want to get back to the olden days of getting the magazines that people want."

The man whose name is still on the door, Joel Shinder, said he's happy that the company that his family founded in 1916 lives on in some way. Shinder had expanded the chain before selling it to Weisberg, a distant relative, in 2003.

"I feel the Shinders name is public property," Shinder said. "To my mind, the people -- the former employees, the customers -- who keep the Shinders tradition alive are to be applauded."

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329