The other day, while I was taking my break at work and keeping up with some message boards, I noticed that long time dealer and collector Ted Zanidakis posted about the recent passing of long-time Philadelphia area promoter, Bob Schmierer. I actually never had my own table at the famed Willow Grove show Bob had such a large hand in running for many years, but I shared one with hobby friend Mel Solomon and also did several stints at the Baseball Hobby News table many years ago. Bob had retired from show promoting several years ago but what memories he helped create.
I will tell you that those days at Willow Grove were fantastic and to this day, it’s hard to describe the energy in the room but let’s just say, the need to buy and move on was incredible. Today, we talk about if you see something you could not live without at the National buy it because if you hesitate it will be gone by the time you return. That was the case at many of those Philly shows in the 1980s. In fact, some will tell you it was even harder to pass on an item there. The good part was the show room at the George Washington Motor Lodge was small enough that you could easily remember who had what items. The bad news was it might take you two hours to get back to wherever you wanted to go because of the crowd and the quality of the merchandise that was hard to pass by.
As an aside, the George Washington Motor Lodge chain may have had the most dingy hotel in the world. I remember going on a buying trip to New England the week after a Willow Grove show. We went partially to see the leaves turn and partially to hit a grouping of shows as yes, we could attend a show just about every night during the four-day trip.
The first night, the hotel we alighted at told us they almost no rooms left. During the conversation, I discovered the head clerk was from the Philly area. I mentioned that I just wanted a nice place to stay as I had just spent three nights at the George Washington Motor Lodge and really wanted a good night’s sleep. Well, those were the magic words. All of a sudden a suite (at the regular hotel price no less) opened up. The head clerk felt so sorry for my adventure at the GW, we had a great room as a reward. There is an apocryphal story that a prominent hobby figure took his wife to the George Washington when they were first married and when she took one look at a roach who was bigger than my dogs, they checked out, never to return. She avoided going on hobby trips after that as much as possible.
By the way, when I finally went back to the ESPCC show after many years at Beckett, I made it a point to drive by the GW location and it was a fallow field at that point. I don’t know if anything has been built on the location in recent years.
But no matter how bad the GW was (and the service was even worse), the hotel came to life during the show. In the hours before the show opened, the individual rooms were like a cornucopia of hobby legends making deals and seeing what the other dealers had acquired. Some people were sellers, others were buyers but the action in those hotel rooms was even more impressive than what went on during the show. But despite all that, Bob and his crew put on terrific shows during the boom times of the hobby. One thing to remember was Bob was very strict about following his rules. He wanted to ensure everyone who attended had the same opportunity to buy cards from the vendors. He would insist you stay until “x” time and also attempted to bar “suitcase” dealers who would not pay for a table but bring their items in that way to sell to both the public and the dealers. And from what I remember, Bob could be incredibly strict with what was needed to run the show.
In that, he reminded me of Gloria Rothstein who also had very strict rules for their dealers. We have not touched on Gloria for a while but she was a commensurate promoter and when she got on her megaphone, you knew what she was thinking. And Gloria did try various locations for her shows but to her credit, if the show did not work and was quiet, she would allow the dealers to pack out early, On a personal level, I’m not as tough at my shows as they were, as I feel as long as you paid for your table space, it’s your right to decide when to arrive or when to leave. But I get why someone who can’t get to a show until mid-afternoon would be upset when the room begins clearing out ahead of the scheduled close time.
I wonder if Bob’s only hobby regret when it comes to promoting was not being able to host the National. Although he used to say the Willow Grove show was a national event, he was looking to host the 1989 National in the Philadelphia area. When Ron Durham won the balloting for Atlantic City, that knocked out Philadelphia as the host for the 1989 show based on the contiguous state/400 mile rule. I remember seeing Bob’s face that night, realizing hobby history had been altered and wonder if we would have had a different national path if Philly had been selected.