Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Crazy Pete's an off-the-wall way of life

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THOMPSON -- Ask Peter Zaworonok what the weirdest thing he sells is and he needs some clarification.

"It depends what you call weird," says Zaworonok, co-owner of Crazy Pete's Trading Post, a landmark soup-to-nuts store on the outskirts of Thompson.

Walking into Crazy Pete's, past the electronic barking of the fictitious guard dog, is like entering an episode of TV's Hoarders.

Well, not quite. While the merchandise is exceedingly random, it is organized, and everything is worth something to somebody, even if that somebody won't show up for another five years.

Need a campfire tea kettle or some high-end embroidery thread? How about a home potato chipper or military toys you thought were banned? A movie poster from 1991's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II or fishing tackle that looks designed to snag a whale?

It's all here, along with gas and a car wash.

Bespectacled and white-bearded, Zaworonok likens his business to yesteryear's small-town hardware stores. He carries just about everything in "onesies and twosies."

It's not the highest-margin business in the world, but it suits Zaworonok, a self-confessed eccentric and free spirit, just fine.

His foray into retail followed a winding road. He was living in Edmonton when, in 1967, he accepted a job as a technologist for nickel miner Inco, now Vale, in Thompson.

Zaworonok's work earned him accolades but no promotions. So after a decade, he left Inco to go into business for himself, running his own insulating company before purchasing a car wash and gas bar.

One Christmas, he decided to buy wholesale watches to give to his corporate customers as thank-you gifts. He only needed 20 watches, but the price was so right that he ordered 40 and tried to sell the remainder.

Zaworonok put the 20 watches on his arm and pumped gas for customers. Like someone out of a movie back alley, he would exhibit the watches and ask people if they wanted to buy one.

He sold out within hours.

"It dawned on me that there's some money in this retail stuff," Zaworonok recalls.

In 1979, Zaworonok added a small store to his car wash and gas bar. When it came time to name the business, he wanted something that would stick in people's minds.

"If you (called it) 'Pete's', some people would remember, but more people would remember if it was called 'Crazy Pete's,' " he says.

Crazy Pete's took off, expanding several times before hitting its current size of 3,000 square feet, not including the warehouse.

The store has become beloved throughout the North, fostering a loyal customer base.

"You won't find another store like this with everything you need," says Patricia Moose, a South Indian Lake resident who has been coming here for a decade.

Zaworonok takes care of his regulars such as Moose. Same with his non-regulars. His behind-the-till banter can make your day, though you know not to take it too seriously coming from someone calling himself Crazy Pete.

His skills as a salesman are formidable, which is not surprising when you consider that the German-born entrepreneur made his first sale when he was just six years old.

It was back in Edmonton and he and his mother, who spoke no English, were literally starving. She sent her young son out to try and sell an embroidered tablecloth she made.

Zaworonok sauntered door to door, finally hooking a customer. The woman not only bought the tablecloth, but also hired his mother to make embroidered drapes. Zaworonok had earned the family a month's supply of food.

If Zaworonok had his way, he would work at Crazy Pete's until his final breath. Family pressures, however, are likely to coerce his retirement in the next two or three years.

He doesn't expect to sell the store, co-owned by his brother Raymond. He doubts anyone still wants to put in the 14-hour days needed.

When he does call it quits, Zaworonok, 67, and his wife plan to move to the house they own in a remote and off-the-wall part of B.C.

"It's got a lot of wackos," he says, "and I fit in just right."

 

Jonathon Naylor is editor of The Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.

jonathon_naylor@hotmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 20, 2013 A15

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