Standing on the Other Side of the Table

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A couple weeks ago I touched on how I tried my hand at standing on the other side of the table as a dealer, during the CNE, along with 20 other sports memorabilia vendors.  I’d set up at a few local shows before the CNE to get a feel of what to expect. My brother and I worked in tandem and we started to get known; the memorabilia “family” is closely guarded and was always aware of stray outsiders trying to crowd their territory. The word “fair,” I found out was how our fellow dealers perceived us in our short tenure so far.

Opening day at the CNE we anxiously awaited for the crowds to arrive. Months of preparation along with an obvious monetary investment had us wondering if this would be a mistake.  We listened to our experienced supplier and had our table glistening with an array of cards to choose from. We had the standard baseball cards for the 1992 season and with the Jays heading towards a World Series Championship later that October, baseball was never more popular than it was in Toronto that summer.   I had boxes of cards going back into the 1970’s featuring hockey, football and baseball. The current series sets of hockey cards were displayed along with a smattering of NFL and CFL football packs. Set up at the front of our booth much to my objection at the time was a huge display case of Basketball cards that held 500 packs. Now remember, the Raptors weren’t even in the thought process in 1992 and wouldn’t be for another 4 years. The supplier insisted we offer these for sale and I begrudgingly went along thinking he was just dumping the inventory he couldn’t sell on us.  We restocked that stand 4 times throughout the 21 days.  Whodathunkit!

Behind the glass (the display cases) sat the expensive rookie and rare cards.

We also had a stand of sports videos that were current and popular.

There was a substantial selection of “junk wax,” gaining its moniker because the sets didn’t hold any real value but it was a cheaper way for collectors to accumulate sets. The 1990’s hockey Pro-sets, along with Score baseball, football and Topps baseball, football, made up this section of cards for sale by the box or case.

The non-sports cards accounted for a third of our table consisting of Harley-Davidson, Disney, popular sitcoms, movies etc.

We added a few extra bodies for opening day because the “pros” (thieves) would be out in full force to steal; it’s unfortunate, but these low-lifes exist and we had to be on guard.

Once the crowds started to increase, our booth became extremely busy and we were doing a brisk business. While the other guys were dealing with the smaller purchases, I was handling the more expensive deals.

That opening day we generated $4000 in total sales. Our total investment for new product was just over $7000, so we were well on our way to making a solid return.  We would average $2000 a day for the remainder of the CNE.   Our margins were thin because of the competition but we made a small profit net of all expenses. We did turn our table over a number of times and restocked inventory weekly, so all in all it was successful.

While as I mentioned the profit was small, the experience and life experiences from the other side of the table was priceless.

Opening day, a rough looking band of biker types strolled up the aisle and I didn’t give it much thought figuring the last place these guys would want to stop was at a memorabilia booth. Well not only did one of them stop; he did so right in front of our booth. He quickly approached, all the while pointing at the card display. The rest of the dozen or so Satan’s Choice (yes those guys) followed behind.

“Hey man can I look at these,” said the biker as he reached to pick up a pack of Harley Davidson cards.

“Go right ahead,” I said nervously and thinking now I’d seen it all.

For the next 20-minutes these guys like little kids opened packs of Harley cards and stood gushing over the different models in the packs. They ended up buying the case we had on hand (12 boxes) and wanted more. I sent one of the guys to our supplier and got three more cases; these guys came back a few hours later and bought them all. And in case your wondering, they didn’t even ask for a discount.

The most bizarre slight looking guy with long hair, a fedora, dirty looking clothes hanging off him, chains around his neck, a chain belt and rings on every finger, stopped in front of the booth. I figured he was looking for a handout and prepared to move him along. Instead he bought 10 boxes of pro-set hockey cards at $5 a piece; they were from the previous year and effectively worthless. He stuffed the 10-boxes into bags and quickly departed. He would arrive everyday around the same time and buy the exact same quantity. After a week, I stopped him to ask what was so appealing about this set. I figured maybe he was selling them at a flea market or something and if that was indeed the case, maybe we could do a bulk deal, so I could unload this worthless junk. But as it turned out, that wasn’t the motive at all. His vision was, because this set was such a failure, people were just dumping the boxes at any price and he felt that years down the road, unopened boxes would increase in value. They didn’t, but to each his own.

Another regular customer was a 30-something year-old guy who was a travelling carnie, who owned a couple rides on the mid-way and was also a loan shark.   His cards of choice were the 92 Fleer-Ultra baseball and he’d buy two boxes every night on his dinner break. At the end of every shift he would go back to his trailer and put sets together.

A kid approached the booth dressed in a fluorescent outfit of baggy pants, shirt and matching hat. I looked up and about 10 teenage kids all dressed the same way, were now standing around the booth. Well my immediate thought was they must be an act on the midway or something because the word Criss-cross was written on these ridiculous looking out fits. Much to my chagrin, that wasn’t the case, because when I made that observation, the leader of this street gang (all of about 16 with a gun as an earring) took exception to my disrespect and started with the attitude. Now realizing my error in judgment I did offer an apology, trying to keep a straight face the whole time. They moved along slowly as I stood shaking my head wondering if these freaks keep getting dropped in by helicopter or something.

A guy, who owned a card shop in Newmarket, drove from his store to purchase two Joe Carter, Topps Limited Gold Cards for $300.   He had them sold to a waiting customer for $500 for the pair. They may be worth a buck in today’s market.

A young, rough looking street kid, offered to sell me half a dozen Blue Jay “rookie” cards, at discounted prices. He looked anything but a collector so my assumption was they were stolen.   I started questioning him about the cards and of course, he knew nothing.   At that exact moment one of the other dealers came bursting through the crowd, screaming at the top of his lungs, targeting this kid in front of our booth. This punk of course had stolen the cards and the victimized dealer was on to him. A violent shouting match, that Billy Martin and any umpire would be the envy of, ensued.   The police arrived and the funny part was, the guy in the booth beside me who ran the batting cage got involved. The police made this lowlife empty his pockets and besides the cards, he had a wad of cash. So quickly thinking, the batting cage guy accused this kid of stealing from him and grabbed the money. He counted out $200 dollars and said this is what he stole.   The police just stood there because they had this punk dead to rights and how would he prove it was his anyway; besides it happened so fast, I don’t think anybody was aware what was happening. The kid said nothing because the money was probably stolen. Later the batting cage operator said he made the whole thing up and was $200 richer.

Over the 21 days that summer of 1992, I saw collecting in a whole different light from the dealer perspective. The tire-kickers, the know-it-alls, the chiselers, cheats, thieves and so on. Made a lot of contacts for future deals and also a half-dozen leads to buy collections, which I ended up buying three.

Dealing with people is always an experience no matter what you’re selling. However, watching a member of the Satan’s Choice motorcycle gang, standing in front of the booth, squealing with delight opening a pack of motorcycle cards is pretty tough to top.   Remember, even those guys were kids once too.