by Rich Klein
One of the best reasons to go to the National Sports Collectors Convention is to renew acquaintances with old friends and to meet other hobbyists with the same interests you have. That point was driven home this week when one of my wife’s longtime friends passed away suddenly at the young age of 44. I don’t believe in taking friendships lightly and I make sure to see friends from my New Jersey card-dealing days and also the many years I spent working for Beckett.
A person I’m always happy to see each year is Phil Spector. Phil and I actually began trading cards in the late 1970’s and we’ve been good friends ever since. Phil is truly a hobby lifer and is a delight to talk to about not just cards but about his wife and daughters. You can tell the pride he has in his family every time you talk to him.
While at the National, he reminded me of a show we both set up at in 1989. The back story was that a year earlier, many dealers from the Tri-State area (NY, NJ and CT) had set up at a building called the “Norfolk Scope” which was a great facility for a show and had an arena that held the 1974 ABA All-Star Game and several big fights. Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker was from Virginia Beach and fought several times in that building. The exhibition hall is still around today.
The show was a good one for the dealers but the promoters did not do as well there as they would have liked. Despite the fact that this was a good location and a good area without a lot of shows, Phil felt that the Virginia Beach area would support a show in 1989. One night over dinner, we were discussing returning to Virginia Beach and Phil said, he could take a few tables and I said I could take a few tables. From there, we got the ball in motion for the show. Amongst the dealers who trekked down to Virginia Beach were Phil, Mark Pollock of Teaneck, NJ; Alan Miley and Jim Fleck who has worked with Levi Bleam at 707 Sportscards for many many years.
The date of the show was set for July 30, 1989. A few ads were placed in local papers and we also sent them to the hobby publications of the time (to show how much things have changed, a friend of mine here in Plano, Texas just sent me a Craig’s List announcement for a local show).
We thought we had it covered, but no matter how many details you get to, there is always something that shows up at the last minute. The way we had set up the day; the dealers would be unpacked by 9 AM and then trade amongst ourselves until the doors opened at 10 AM. The show was supposed to open at 10 and have $1 admission. Remember I said that something showed up at the last minute. None of us had noticed, but the listing in Sports Collectors Digest said the show would run from 9 to 5 and would be free admission.
By 9:25 there was a line of more than 100 people waiting to get in. We quickly got ready and the crowds came in.
And they just kept coming.
I had three tables, and literally spent the next seven hours just pacing back and forth to take care of the customers. There was never a moment to breathe as I had also brought not just cards; but supplies and Baseball Hobby News with me. We had a fishbowl and we’d draw names for a free subscription after the show.
I believe Jim was directly across from me, and I don’t think I ever saw the other side of the room again until 4 PM. The show was unbelievable. That day and the Thursday of the 1983 National where we greeted customers from 9 AM to 9 PM may be the two busiest days I have ever seen at a show.
I did over $4,000 worth of business in that seven hour time frame (pretty big money 23 years ago) and Phil was nice enough to sell me a 1962 set at the end of the day for his cost for the work I did to help him set up the whole event. And the price was so reasonable on the 1962 set that I even made more money after the show.
Afterward, we all brought our material back to our rooms and then went to dinner and walked to the beach. Having dinner while watching the beach traffic go by and enjoying the fun day with our friends. And yes, the fact we were all friends made the day even more memorable.
That would be the only time I ever set up in Virginia Beach as within a year I would be hired by Beckett and my card dealing days would basically be over. Phil said the show continued to be a huge hit until 1993 when the taxes basically tripled and the show was no longer economically feasible to promote.
But, if you were from the Virginia Beach area and attended either the show at the Scope in 1988 or near the beach itself in 1989, you probably met me without even realizing it.
Phil? I just saw him last week at the 2012 National in Baltimore and he’s still very much active in the hobby. He has returned to working for Ken Goldin as port of Kenny’s new auction venture.
Some tables were busy at this year’s National, but I don’t think anything could compare to those crazy days.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]