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American Faces #83 - One man's junk...

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

American Faces No. 83

John Parks loves the hunt. There’s a conspiratorial gleam in his eye when he talks about his latest find. His friends and fans call him Johnny Junk.

“People started calling me Johnny Junk when I was a kid,” says John, “The guys in the local gas station would give me old spark plugs and junk parts. I was always dragging stuff home.”

His dad loved old cars. His mom collected antiques. “I didn’t have a chance,” he says.

Johnny Junk & Co. in downtown Anoka, Minnesota, looks like a man-caver’s dream, full of vintage beer and gas station signs, car memorabilia, old RC airplanes and antique “big boy toys” of all kinds. The store’s an homage to John’s long-time passion for automotive and motorcycle artwork and the small-town culture of yesteryear.

“As a kid, I’d go with my dad to car shows and swap meets and ask him to drop me at the gate. I’d buy stuff right off the trucks as they came in, picking the cool stuff before anyone else saw it,” says John.

Eventually he’d collected so much that John’s family suggested he open a store, just to help clear out the stash. But he says as much comes in the doors as goes out. “I have more stuff now than when I started,” he says.

John’s regular gig is commercial design, plus hand-lettering and custom pin-striping on hotrods and motorcycles. He also makes customized period signage, re-creating the signs his customers grew up seeing in their hometown or the family cabin.

The Johnny Junk & Co. store, filled with John’s custom replica artwork, beloved automotive memorabilia and vintage signs, is an easy blending of old and new. It has a comfortable nostalgic vibe that invites folks to hang out and visit for a while, like they used to.

Maybe that’s why John claims the store is “just a hobby.”

“I like taking time to hear people’s stories about the stuff they bring in. I probably don’t spend as much time as I should negotiating prices,” says John, “If I really had to make a living at it I wouldn’t be having as much fun.”

As you go about your day, take time to stop and visit with someone new, take in the moment, and hear a story. You may just meet a guy like Johnny Junk, and find the treasure of friendship in surprising places.

Photos by: Nielsen Studios

Writing/editing by: Scott Whitman

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