By Rich Klein
The recent article posted about the combination pet store/baseball card store reminded me of both the heady hobby days of the late 1980’s as well as the more recent Beanie Babies craze. In both of those cases, just about any type of store saw a chance to make extra money by attaching itself to a fad. In New Jersey, to the best of my memory, we had coin shops which started either dabbling in baseball cards or becoming primarily baseball card shops. We also had sports cards pop up inside laundromats, pizzerias, book stores and just about any other type of entrepreneurial venture as the owners tried to grab a slice of a red hot pie. Later, Beanie Babies showed up in various types of entrepreneurial venture. I knew that fad was out of control when on my 4.7 mile drive home from the Beckett offices, there were at least five places where I could purchase Beanie Babies. And yes, in the 1980’s, the baseball card hobby was almost as out of control.
The store which I remember vividly because I, along with several other regulars hung out there frequently, was run by my old friend J. Wesley Seaman in Wayne, N.J. His little store was actually part of what we called in New Jersey “stationery” stores in which a little bit of everything was sold. These stores were the independent version of what in Texas are called convenience stores. The main part of the business had normal hours but what made Wes’ store so unusual were the hours for his card business: 6 to 8 PM Monday through Sunday. Yes that is correct. When the rest of the world shut down on Sunday evening, Wes would make sure he was open. He’d come over from his furniture delivery job and sell cards. And no, I don’t think any photos still exist of this store.
Being the only game in town meant that Wes would see a decent amount of business on Sunday nights. Among the highlights of hanging around then was seeing what interesting items walked in during the week as well as some of his current goals. One of his pet projects (and amazingly I remember seeing a couple of ads in hobby publications for the same purpose) was his attempt to create a completely wax stained 1987 Topps baseball set. Yes, that is correct, he was working on a wax stained card set. Of course, in 1987, such a set may have been able to have been completed but we knew there was no real value. If anyone ever did complete this set and still has it in that form, it may be unique in 2013.
The effort on the wax stained set was the most unforgettable item he ever worked on but we would go out to many Sunday night dinners after he closed down at a little Italian place nearby. Since his store was actually on the way to where my mom spent her working days I was very familiar with the whole area and knew, just as he did, all the places to eat nearby. What was also interesting was he was setting up at the card and coin show directly across the street from the Parsippany show I was doing. The promoter of the other card show was a man named Tony Taggio and needless to say neither he nor Mike Gordon got along with each other.
Eventually, Wes moved back to where he served our country at an air force base in Minot, North Dakota—a long way from his Jersey stomping grounds in more ways than one. When Wes opened up his shop he was one of seven stores carrying cards–in a town of 35,000 people, yet another sign the hobby was getting a little too big. There were also a couple of places on the military base to buy baseball cards. We would keep in touch for several years until he closed down his store.
I have only heard from Wes a couple of times in the last few years. The first was when a local friend of his came up with a Jack Mara autograph. Jack, the brother of Wellington Mara, passed on as a very young man and any of his signatures are difficult.
The last time I heard from Wes was when he told me his lost his inventory in a flood. As anyone who collects and lives in Moore, OK or other places such as my friends in the New York Metropolitan area can attest, no matter how careful you are with your collection, there is never any guarantee that your cards will remain totally safe. Mother Nature sometimes has other ideas. So enjoy your cards now, and build a wax stained 1987 Topps set for me.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]