Devin Lamb’s recent move to Chicago opened the door for the culmination of his return to collecting – a chance to attend the biggest show around.
Lamb, 27, will be among the masses headed to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center as it hosts the 34th National Sports Collectors Convention Wednesday through Sunday in suburban Chicago. For Lamb, it’s his first time at the hobby’s showcase event.
“I got back into collecting about three years ago after taking a long break when I went to college,” said Lamb, who previously lived near Purdue University before arriving in Chicago three months ago. “That’s the main reason this is my first show in a while. Now that I’m actually in a big city, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go.”
If the early numbers are any indication, not many collectors are going to miss the event featuring dozens of autograph signers and hundreds of dealers. National Executive Director Mike Berkus said pre-admission ticket sales are up 25 percent, the floor is sold out with a waiting list and hotels near the convention center are selling out.
“We’ve had a history of great shows in Chicago,” Berkus said, noting the NSCC has made about a half dozen visits to Chicago in the show’s history. “It’s the biggest city we can find in the middle of the country” to draw collectors from both the East and West coasts.
Berkus and his team have gone heavy in promoting the National in the large Chicago market with advertising in the area’s three main newspapers and on local radio stations, as well as TV relationships with ESPN and Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The National will also play host to two tapings of Chicago-based “A Piece of the Game,” a sports memorabilia-themed appraisal show which debuted on WGN-TV earlier this year. This is the National’s third trip to Chicago since 2008, with the city already on the books to host again in 2015 and 2017.
Although Chicago’s professional sports teams typically have a presence at the National, this year marks the first appearance by the Cubs, Berkus said. The team will have a ticket kiosk in the lobby for collectors looking to attend a game during the Cubs-Dodgers series at Wrigley Field over the weekend.
“Chicago has become one of my favorite cities to visit,” Chris Walters, a collector from Dallas, said as he prepares for his 18th consecutive National. “As far as Chicago shows go, the energy seems so much higher than other venues. You have dealers from all over the country in one building. That is great for consumers like me as it gives me a lot more items to search.”
While Walters hunts for autographs of Heisman Trophy winners and unusual signatures on baseballs, many collectors will be digging into fresh boxes to participate in a wide variety of redemption programs offered by Topps, Panini, Upper Deck and other manufacturers.
Chicago native John Arcand will be among the dealers set up on the massive convention floor with his collection of rare motorcycle racing items – which was recently part of an episode of “Pawn Stars”- dating back a century to Chicago’s Riverview Motordrome and the sport’s first road race. Arcand’s also paying attention to more recent Chicago sports history with Blackhawks Stanley Cup championship memorabilia.
“We’re reigning champs in a sport. Obviously, we’re strong in supporting our local teams,” he said.
The pre-show buzz is important to Berkus, but he knows it’s about what’s happening on the floor that really matters. Another positive indicator Berkus cites in that respect is an uptick in pre-sales for Tristar’s roster of nearly 100 autograph signers, including a healthy dose of Chicago favorites, who will appear during the five-day show.
“There’s always something going on,” Berkus offered. “We have a very passionate hobby.”