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Fraser couple makes business out of recycled license plates

By: Sarah Cormier | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published August 25, 2011

 Fred and Donna Kostrick hold a license plate designed as the shape of Michigan, one of the many unique items the couple makes out of old license plates.

Fred and Donna Kostrick hold a license plate designed as the shape of Michigan, one of the many unique items the couple makes out of old license plates.

Photo by David Schreiber

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FRASER — For Fred and Donna Kostrick, work is their lifeblood.

“When you keep busy, it keeps you young,” said Donna, who is 80 years old.

This is the motto of arguably two of the hardest working people in Fraser. Even though the couple technically retired in 2001 after working together for 42 years as gas and water meter installers, they never really did.

“When we retired, we just couldn’t sit around,” said Fred, who is 86 years old. “It started as a hobby, kept growing. Now the whole family is involved.”

Fred is referring to the couple’s newest business, called License Plate Heaven, located in an office building the couple has always owned just off of East 13 Mile Road in Fraser.

The pair uses old license plates to make new signs for people. Examples include “Knock the T off of Can’t” “Count Your Blessings” “This is Taco Country” and “Heaven on Earth.” People order whatever saying they want, the Kostricks assemble the new sign and ship it to the customer.

They work with several shops all over the country, storeowners they have met on their many travels. Fred said if he and Donna see a shop they think would be interested in selling their product, they’ll simply stop in, tell the owner they’ll make them a sign for free and ask them to hang it up in their shop along with a phone number people can call to place an order. A store in New Orleans is one of their biggest customers.

“In my opinion, anyone that doesn’t do it is missing the boat,” said Fred.

Shortly after the couple retired, Fred began collecting license plates from all over the world.

“It was my dad’s hobby … just doing it in the garage, and it just kept growing,” said Fred and Donna’s daughter, 54-year-old Linda Ringstad of Roseville. Ringstad is one of four children the couple have together. They also have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

To this day, Fred’s still not sure what got him into the hobby. “I don’t even know why,” he said.

One day, he went out shopping, trying to find a gift for his wife. He passed a store that was selling journals made from old license plates for $39.95.

“I thought, “That’s ridiculous for an old license plate,” said Fred.

So he went home and made a journal for Donna out of a license plate from his collection. From there, the business just grew.

“We started making them, and people liked them,” said Fred, who added that in addition to journals and signs, the couple also makes maps from the old license plates.

“He’s a Depression-era kid, so he makes a second life out of everything,” said Ringstad.

License Plate Heaven was launched in Fraser in June; however, the couple actually first started the business in Mexico a couple of years ago. Every year from November to May, the couple lives there and has now enlisted the trust of some Mexican natives to run the business for them all year. They mainly sell the product to tourists on cruise ships.

“Really, we do more in Mexico than what we do here,” said Fred. “We are just starting here.”

In total, the couple has more than 100,000 license plates stored in various areas to choose from. Fred said they get the license plates mostly from junkyards, but one time, the president of Mexico put them in contact with an individual who had 15 tons of license plates to sell.

The most in demand letters for the signs are L, A, E, N and I.

“That’s one of our battles, even with all the plates we have,” said Donna, who said her favorite license plate is Nebraska’s.

“That’s the only one that has orange. It brings out all the other colors,” she said. Fred doesn’t have a favorite.

Donna said the most requested signs are those using people’s names or sayings related to beer. The couple also has a running list of funny or unique statements they have seen while on their travels. They recently celebrated their 60th anniversary May 5, and as a gift to themselves, bought a new car. Since then, they have logged 10,000 miles on the vehicle.

“We love to travel. All someone has to do is suggest something and we’re all for it,” said Fred.

Despite Fred and Donna’s obvious love of work, Fred doesn’t mention it when he talks about the things he truly loves.

“There’s four most important things in life. The first is wife and family. The second is old country music from the ‘60s. The third is commercial auction sales, and the fourth is professional wrestling,” he said.

For more information on License Plate Heaven, call (586) 822-3774, e-mail licenseplateheaven@gmail.com or visit www.licenseplateheaven.com.
 

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