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Roanoke shop salvages architecture pieces

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POSTED November 29, 2012 6:56 p.m.

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) — The premiere of "Salvage Dawgs" opens with Mike Whiteside, 56, rolling up Roanoke's Memorial Avenue and into the parking lot of Black Dog Salvage with a giant, rusty rocket strapped to the top of his red Chevy pickup truck.

Before anyone can give an explanation, Robert Kulp, 49, and co-owner of the shop with Whiteside, knows what's going on.

"Fairly often Mike will come in with something absolutely ridiculous, and it's seldom I'm shocked," he explains.

Whiteside is unfazed by the comments and is clearly thrilled with his find.

"This guy called me up and said he wanted to get rid of it and I just couldn't resist," Whiteside says.

The rocket came from the former Lakeside Amusement Park in Salem, and Whiteside dropped $2,000 on the "trophy piece," which Kulp describes as a find that doesn't have much profitability. His business partner has a plan, though - paint the rocket and use it at the shop as a landmark.

After all, shouldn't a shop with its own reality TV show have some distinctive qualities?

Black Dog Salvage, located at 902 13th St. S.W., specializes in reclaiming, repurposing and reselling architectural salvage. The business is the focus of "Salvage Dawgs," which premiered on the DIY Network on Nov. 8.

The show follows Whiteside and Kulp as they race the wrecking ball to save what they can out of architecturally unique old sites. In the first episode, you see them painstakingly pull delicate pieces out of old homes — such as a giant bay window out of the Izzard House in Floyd County.

In between, there are shots of Whiteside's black lab Sally the Salvage Dog.

Many of the locations featured on the show will be familiar to Southwest Virginians, and if you visit the shop, employees can point out which episode select pieces came from. Both men have an eye for finding the unique pieces in their shop, but they never imagined their partnership would lead to a cable series.

Kulp, a Roanoke native, and Whiteside, originally from Boone, N.C., accidentally started the business in 1999.

Whiteside wanted to build a garage, and after being turned down several times he got a tip to call Kulp, a contractor who gave him some pointers. The garage project was never done, but it was the start of something else. After meeting, the duo, both former members of the Navy, collaborated to salvage an old home on Highland Avenue — and they've been a team since.

They got the store's name after some inspiration from the original black dog, Molly.

"None of us had a background in any kind of retail operation," Kulp explained.

Whiteside added, "Accidental entrepreneurship is our forte."

Kulp, who also owns and runs the construction company Blue Ridge Residential, and Whiteside, a former yacht captain, grew out of their original space on Reserve Avenue four years after starting the business and moved to the current spot next to the Roanoke River Greenway.

Now the business houses a Marketplace in which consignors can rent space and sell their own merchandise — ranging from furniture to art and beyond. Kulp explained that they're very picky about who can sell in the space. The consignors must have an eye for design, eclectic taste and have unique items that are not "crazily" priced. Whiteside's wife, Susie, also runs her interior design business, Whiteside Designs, out of the Marketplace.

One consignor featured on the show is The Dot Spot, run by Courtney Cronin. While the show mainly focuses on the architectural salvage part of the shop, Cronin makes appearances repurposing and painting some of the less-valuable finds from salvage jobs, like wood stoves.

"Salvage Dawgs" was born out of a friendship between Whiteside and his fishing buddy, Figure 8 Films president Bill Hayes. Hayes was discussing an idea he had for a salvage-themed show when Whiteside said: "Why not us?" Figure 8 is based in North Carolina.

After shooting a pilot at a South Boston salvage job, which is also featured in the show's first episode, Trailblazer Studios picked up the idea and sold it to DIY Network.

"We were lucky enough to have a personal relationship with someone who's bona fide," Kulp explained. "This is obviously worth our while. There's no way we could buy this kind of exposure."

During a phone interview late last month, Jeff Lanter, co-producer of the show and Carroll County High School graduate, said the network was very happy with the premiere.

"We are cautiously optimistic that we'll get an order for more (episodes). We've got about two weeks until we find out for sure," he explained.

Five episodes have been shot and are set to air, but another eight could be ordered if the network is happy with the response.

The banter between Kulp and Whiteside was a big draw, Lanter said, in addition to the risk factor that comes with their work - one wrong move and a piece is destroyed.

Of the "Dawgs" themselves, Lanter said, "Their persona completely translated to TV. We didn't have to do anything. We pull the pin out of the grenade and walk out of the room."

Both men find the entire experience surreal. There has been a slight uptick in business since the show aired, especially with visitors coming off of Interstate 81. Calls from out-of-towners interested in buying items they've seen on the show also have increased.

The men pride themselves on having products that will look appropriate in older homes and don't cost as much as custom pieces from big-box stores. You can find doors and antique windows, claw feet for bath tubs, stained glass, light fixtures and more at Black Dog. Given enough time, these guys will go after salvageable properties anywhere.

Though some shoppers and viewers don't like the fact that Whiteside and Kulp dismantle historical sites, the two men believe they're preserving them. Without their help, the buildings would be simply be torn down.

"I have a respect for historic properties. If something is coming down anyway, we're going to try and save it," Kulp explained.

Like that rocket. It's since been painted and has a proud new life as Black Dog Salvage's latest trophy.

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