Brad Beeman’s story isn’t all that unusual.
Like many kids in the 1980’s he cut his teeth on Topps, Fleer and Donruss. He readily jokes that he had more 1987 Topps than anyone. McGwire, Sandberg and Canseco’s were neatly tucked neatly away in binders.
Then life changed quickly and things like cardboard were not as appealing as girls.
Decades later, like a prodigal son, he’s back and entrenched in the hobby bigger than ever as the organizer and promoter of one the Midwest’s quickest growing shows.
Monday, Labor Day, he’ll mark the one year anniversary of Bee Sports Shipshewana Card Fest.
From 8 AM to 2 PM in the heart of Indiana Amish country, hundreds of collectors will browse more than 150 tables at the Farmstead Inn’s Expo Barn.
The show also features food trucks for the hard core who don’t dare leave the property for nourishment.
Beeman’s return to the hobby came in 2014 when his son started to take interest in sports. He started going to shows around Northern and Central Indiana. He’d spend late nights checking out eBay listings or watching card breaks.
“Never did it occur to me that I could do this,” he said. “Before then I didn’t even know what Panini was,” he laughs. “I thought it was a sandwich.”
After attending a show at an old mall with modest amenities he saw collectors still enjoying themselves.
Beeman started to ponder.
“I think I can do this. I can do this at a different level. It was a leap of faith.”
It was also some salesmanship to get the property owner to take a risk.
Another show promoter teased him. “You are either brilliant or it’s gonna flop.”
In September 2020, it started with 60 tables on a holiday. Each dealer was personally recruited or invited by someone he trusted. “We hand selected our dealers when we started. I still have a great group of guys,’ Beeman pauses, “And ladies who love the hobby.”
After a handful of shows, they moved to a bigger venue next door. Attendance and tables skyrocketed immediately.
‘We jumped to 150 tables plus that was pretty cool, and of course the hobby was just exploding.”
He admits he was preparing for attendees to come from communities an hour away like Fort Wayne or South Bend. “I had no idea I’d get so much traffic from Michigan. The really cool thing is, we are also getting people from Northwest Ohio, Chicago and Wisconsin. That was unexpected.”
Beeman says he’s careful about how the shows are scheduled. He’s noticed why his show and others are successful.
“It’s planning, management and some luck.”
That luck, good or bad, came in the COVID-19 pandemic. He reasoned that with events cancelled and both collectors and dealers itching for something to do – even as late as the fall of 2020 – there was a hunger in the collector community for a good quality show of a decent size that could draw from a large area.
“We were in that perfect storm where shows were popping up and the public wanted to come.
He said the quality of dealers took care of the rest.
“It was the reputation. The public wanted a show and we expanded to a larger facility. We were just in the right place at the right time. ‘
It doesn’t hurt that the Shipshewana Card Fest is adjacent to the largest flea market in the Midwest,an event that’s been drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors and pumps tens of millions or more into the community each year.
The local Amish culture also provides an attraction for families who aren’t all-in on cards. That, Beeman says, makes for a perfect compromise. Collectors can attend the show while making it into a family trip.
When the stars align and the flea market is open, it adds another layer to the experience. Because it’s a tourist hotspot, the show also attracts non-traditional attendees – people who came looking for bargains of all kinds from the flea market. Out of curiosity, usually in the afternoon, they drift in.
Beeman says there’s a temptation to expand. There’s a waiting list of about 10 to 15 dealers consistently. He will tweak space to seemingly do the miracle work of squeezing a few tables here or there into the space. “It’s good to have demand.”
Saying he doesn’t want to “water down the show,” Beeman spaces the events 6-8 weeks apart. The also means building a collector focused show. One that steps away from retail or the big business of cards.
“I want our show to be about singles. We pride ourselves in having everything from $1 boxes to $15,000 Kobe Bryant cards.
The show includes dealers who offer modern and vintage cards, non-sports and gaming cards and sports memorabilia. He says it’s important to have confidence that attendees can find a specific card–or at least a reasonable shot of success. “I don’t want 30 to 40 tables of someone’s blaster boxes. I want to have variety. I want Pokemon, soccer, NASCAR, and F1.”
He’s planning to hold a trade night on Sunday night before the event and offers both dealers and collectors the chance to connect ahead of time via the show’s Facebook page.
After the show this Monday, the Shipshewana Card Fest will return November 7-8. It’s the first two-day event Beeman has attempted. He anticipates six to eight shows in 2022.