Do you ever find yourself driving around and sort of day dreaming about how the area has changed? I do it all the time. Pretty much any road I drive on in the Chicago area brings memories of how the neighborhoods and towns used to look, the old restaurants and stores that are gone, open space that is gone, certain buildings that are gone, and the people I knew that are gone.
The Stephens Center in Rosemont is on River Road, a street I have traversed regularly my entire 55 years. I grew up just north of Rosemont and I remember it being a very different place when I was kid. There was no convention center, no restaurant plaza, no outlet mall, no mega hotels, no theaters -- there wasn't much there. I just remember a few one- to three-story office buildings and a lot of open space.
I went to grade school with this kid Billy Rogers, a pretty good ball player. His grandfather owned most of those old office buildings. Many of them are gone, a handful have survived, I don't know if the family still owns them. I'm assuming the grandfather died a long time ago. The remaining old office buildings are in disrepair.
Growing up, my family regularly cut through Rosemont on our way to either O'Hare Airport, on our way to Downtown Chicago, on our way to our favorite restaurant Russell's in Elmwood Park and on our way to my childhood happy place -- Kiddieland in Melrose Park. That town also had batting cages and a giant slide where I spent a lot of time as a kid, both long gone
Things started to change in Rosemont by the mid-1970's when the Stephens Convention Center was built. Another iconic Rosemont institution is the Hyatt Regency Hotel, located next to the Stephens Center. The Hyatt is an absolutely beautiful building and was rather unique for the 1970's. I can vividly recall its construction. Today, you see a lot of similar buildings with colored glass towers but when that thing was being built, it looked like it was dropped from outer space.
I remember that almost immediately after completion, I went there for card shows. I can't remember if the shows were sponsored by the old Chicagoland Sports Collectors Association but they were large, excellent shows.
The biggest and best card show in Rosemont, or anywhere else for that matter, is the National Sports Collectors Convention which began in California in 1980. The fourth National was held at the O'Hare Holiday Inn, near Rosemont, in 1983. The Hyatt Regency in Rosemont hosted the 1989 National. I remember going to the 1992 National at McCormick Place, a large convention center in Downtown Chicago, right up against Lake Michigan, just south of Soldier Field.
By the mid-1980's, the Chicago area was flooded with card shows. They were everywhere well into the 1990's. By the early 1990's, one promoter stood out -- George Johnson. Starting around 1991, George operated shows in the Chicago area every weekend. His monthly show at the Skyline Room in Rosemont was the best and most popular Chicago area show.
What is currently called the Sports Spectacular at the Stephens Center was originally created by George in the early 1990's. They were fabulous shows with big crowds and a huge amount of dealers.
Interesting fact about George Johnson is that he was a high school basketball teammate of Isiah Thomas at St. Joseph's in Westchester, Illinois.
I could never get a table at George's Skyline room show. He was always sold out but I regularly attended the show and made many great buys. I also regularly attended his Stephens Center show, long sponsored by the Chicago Sun-Times Newspaper. George had half-page ads in the Sun-Times prior to the show and those ads brought in the masses.
My first show at the Stephens Center with George as a dealer was probably November 2001, shortly after I shut down my publishing company and I suddenly had some free time for a three-day show. I still remember that my big seller at that show was vintage basketball cards. George was real kind to me in those days. Sometimes he would flip me an extra booth for free. It was just a great show when George was at the helm.
At that first Sun-Times show, I convinced my brother to set up with me. He did not sell much and dropped out after that. I then set up by myself for a few years. At one of those shows, I found myself set up next to Dave McDonald and Bob Downing. I had such a good time with those guys that I joined their crew and started setting up with them. We also started setting up together at the National around 2010.
Bob was unable to set up at most of the shows due to work and family obligations so I have set up at most of the Stephens Center shows with Dave.
At some point, I think in the early 2010's, George sold the show and moved to Arizona, though he continued to set up. I think the show has since changed hands a couple of times.
The show really went down hill without George. The thing that bugged me the most about the new owners was their lack of advertising. I never understood why they did not keep up the ad in the Sun-Times. Customer traffic noticeably dropped. Then the show shrunk as dealers dropped out. I stuck it out for as long as I could.
Several years before the Pandemic hit, Bob and I had a horrible show and stopped setting up at the newly dubbed Sports Spectacular. Dave kept on doing the March and November shows. Dave and I still teamed up for the National.
Even though I stopped setting up, I still went to the Sports Spectacular to work on some vintage sets and would stop and chat with Dave. The thing I recall about seeing Dave there on his own was that the dealers around him would pinch his space. Dave just needs the one 8-foot table and not much space in back. Technically, each dealer should have an additional 10 to 15 feet of space behind their table. The surrounding dealers had encroached so much that Dave just had a foot or two behind. It almost looked like he was in a cave, peaking out.
My interest in setting up at that Sports Spectacular was peaked after the November 2021 show when many folks told me it was a good show, heavily attended and many big sales. I told Dave I was back for the March 2022 show.
After seeing the surrounding dealers take Dave's space, I knew I needed to set up on Thursday, the night before the show opened, and stake out our spot. I had to work during the day and made it to Rosemont around 4 p.m. I was a little worried that I would not be able to get in without a badge, as I have had trouble in the past. I was happy to see that there was no gate keeper at the garage in the Stephens Center, as in years past, and I was able to drive right in and load in my stuff, hassle free.
I also have to say that this current group that operates the show is much nicer than the previous group. I went to pick up the badges after setting up on Thursday and the guys giving them out could not have been kinder. What happened to Becky? She wasn't so nice. She would hassle me if I went to get the badges and had not been the one who registered the booth. These current guys did not care that I had not been the one to register the booth. They handed over the badges, gave me some instructions, and asked if I wanted to set up at their summer show -- I just may set up at that one!
Then on Saturday and Sunday mornings, these folks provided free doughnuts and coffee, which was never provided by any of the previous groups operating this show. Remember in college when you were all about going to keg parties where the beer was free? Post college, I'm all about going to wherever the doughnuts and coffee are free. Don't get me wrong, I still won't turn down a free beer but at my age, I'd much rather have a free doughnut and a cup of coffee.
I found our booth easily on Thursday afternoon and was not surprised to see all of the space taken up by our neighbors. I nicely told them that they needed to vacate my space. They begrudgingly moved. The guys behind us, modern hockey dealers from Michigan, took up almost the entire amount of space behind my table. They moved back a few feet and I was able to put down some tables in the back behind Dave's table in the aisle. Though, I would have liked a few more feet but they were already set up and did not seem to be able to move any further back.
The space pinching has always gone on at this show, even when George was at the helm. Back when Bob was setting up with us, I could rely on him getting there early on Thursday to stake out our space. Dealer set up begins on Thursday at 1 p.m. Next time, I'm getting there at 1 p.m. In the end, we were able to work it out but space was tight.
Dave wants to set up in the aisle while I try to utilize all the space so I can add additional tables and can add additional display cases. Our layout had Dave's 8-footer at one end of the booth and along the aisle. I turned my 8-footer to the side then placed another 15 feet of tables along the back of our booth and behind Dave's table. The main problem with this set up is that I created an opening to the aisle, so all the other dealers in the row kept walking through the space, using it as an exit and entryway. I could not stand in my own booth without getting pegged by a passing dealer or part of the crowd that hung out behind the modern card booth next door. Next show, I'm blocking that off.
So behind us were the hockey guys, on one side was the modern guy while on the other side was a vintage dealer from southern Illinois. I am always amazed to hear that southern drawl from folks who are from southern Illinois which is essentially the south. Folks from northern and southern Illinois could not be any more different if they tried.
I brought out 13 display cases and was able to place out all them. My southern friend kept on knocking my display cases and I thought they were going to fall to the ground. He placed his chair right up against my cases and had one arm on them blocking the top half of a case or two. I was not pleased.
Some customers were confused in my booth and thought my cases belonged to southern guy. They would ask him about a card in my case then he would go over and pull one out of his case and show it to the customer standing in my booth. I nipped that in the bud and ran up to every customer that walked into my booth and asked if they needed help, diverting their attention from southern guy to me.
I had feverishly priced cards prior to the show and had out quite a bit of new inventory. I arrived early Friday morning, taking the day off work and placed out all of my cards just prior to the show's opening. No binders. I did not want to deal with them at this show, as I need to tie them down in Rosemont or they will walk away. I did not have the space for them anyway.
I did not know what to expect since I have not set up at this show in five or six years. I was pleasantly surprised as sales were great! My pal Steve from Jim & Steve's Card Shop in Waukegan, was my first customer. Steve was buying Cubs and Bears and also purchased my 1959 Topps Jim Brown. I found it funny that he purchased a 1966 Topps Fergie Jenkins rookie as I had just sold him one on eBay. He said that was his son who bought from me on eBay. His two boys are now well into their 20s. I remember when they were wee little lads running around the show.
I had a few other sales after Steve. I don't remember exactly what sold. My pal Tony Schaefer stopped by and purchased a nice pile of cards. Thanks Tony! I was off and running after Tony's purchase.
I continued with quite a few little sales. I noticed that a lot of customers came by, scanned my display cases, left, then came back later. One of those was Kenton from Fort Wayne, IN, who is working on 1948 Leaf football and 1948 Bowman football. I just happen to have a really nice inventory right now. I think Kenton also purchased my 1952 Topps baseball high numbers. My memory is fading but I do recall that Kenton purchased a ton of stuff and was my best customer of the weekend. Thanks Kenton! I ended up having a really great day.
I was back at the convention center early Saturday morning. I grabbed my free doughnut and coffee and filled in all the empty spaces in my display cases. I sold quite a few cards on Friday and was able to add the rest of my football cards into the display cases.
Set up across the aisle from Dave and I were the guys from Detroit, with the coolest display in the show and pictured above. They have been setting up for as long as I remember and have always had the best display at the show. I have been either next to them or across from them at many shows. Nice guys with amazing inventory from pre-War baseball to comic books.
I was waiting for them to dress up. They always put on a costume, either a Tigers uniform or tuxedos, complete with top hats. Dave said they only do the costumes on Sunday. They had some sort of stereo system and were blaring Kiss in the morning. Being a Kiss fan, I enjoyed the music.
One thing I noticed about the Detroit guys this show is that they both are in a continual state of motion. I prefer to just sit back and enjoy the show. These guys, however, are continually working on their display and pricing cards, publications and comic books. It did not look like they stopped to kick back at all during the show. Work, work, work.
Next to the Detroit guys was our old nemeses the Turd Boy from Texas. Years ago, Dave, Bob and I were set up next to Turd Boy and he gave us grief the whole show. First he complained when we pulled our tables a few feet out into the aisle. To this day, I do not understand what he was complaining about. We stretched our booth a few feet but did not pinch any of his space and did not effect his set up in any way. He was just being a dick.
Then, at that same show, a few guys made the mistake of standing in his booth while saying hello to us. That drove Turd Boy nuts and he would kick the offenders out of his booth.
At this past weekend's show, the Detroit guys placed a chair at the end of their booth so customers could sit down and go through boxes of cards. Dave and I watched the chair move from inside the booth to outside and inch slowly in front of Turd Boy's booth. We had front row seats to what we thought would be some drama. Turd Boy would frown at the offenders sitting in front of his booth but, to my surprise, he never went on the attack. Dave and I were waiting for it but it never happened. Maybe he is mellowing out in his old age.
My personal nemeses, The Steve, spent a lot of time at Turd Boy's booth. I've been writing about the Steve since I first started this blog in 2011. I hate the Steve. I do not hate too many people but I really, really hate The Steve. He is about the most worthless person at this show. He goes to every Stephens Center show and just aggravates people. He does not collect sports cards, so I do not know why he is even there. He just wants to talk racist trash and his lunatic brand of politics.
In the past, he would stand in front of our booth and go off, loudly, on his lunacy. Bob and Dave actually like this guy which I will never understand. In the old days, when my sales were not very good at this show, I had to sit there and watch this idiot block my display cases, spew, and keep customers away.
Finally, I just had enough and I told him to get the $#%^ away from my booth. I don't remember when this was, maybe 10 years ago. He left after I told him to leave. However, I took a bathroom break and came back to my booth and this mother*&^%#@ was sitting in my booth in my chair spewing his &^%$. I blew up at him and was going to kill him. If I was younger, I would have beaten the crap out of him. But I've got too much to lose as an adult to get into a fight, so I just shouted at him until he left.
Afterwards, Bob and Dave told the idiot to stay away from our booth. Yet, he still comes by whenever I go on a bathroom break and talks to Dave. I think he hides under a table at Turd Boy's booth, keeping on eye on me and whenever I leave the booth, he pops out, like the troll he is and goes over to Dave to spew his crap. I wish there was a way I could get him banned from the show. Did I say that I hate The Steve? I freakin' hate that guy.
While on the subject of people I hate, I saw the guy we dubbed "Rollow" at the show on Saturday. Rollow is a thief. He stole from me at the Orland Park show. I haven't seen him in years and thought maybe he was gone but to my chagrin, there he was Saturday. He knew better than to stop by my booth and walked on by carrying three bags which I am certain were filled with cards he stole. Mother&^%$@#!
Outside of Turd Boy, The Steve, and Rollow, it was a pretty good day on Saturday. Sales were steady, not quite as good as Friday but good enough. My biggest sale was to another dealer. He purchased a pile of stuff at the end of the day. He kind of beat me up on the price and picked out all of my best stuff but I did appreciate the nice chunk of change. I can't really remember what exactly I sold on Saturday but there were significant holes in my display cases at the end of the day.
I saw one long-time customer I met years ago at the Fred Copp shows, I can't remember his name and I haven't seen him in years. He asked me if I heard about the show in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, at the armory. He said everyone is talking about it and it is a great show. I went and grabbed him a flyer, told him I am the promoter and the show was located at the Salvation Army, not the armory, there is no armory in Oak Creek. I thought that was pretty cool, though.
After the show, Dave, our pal Larry, and I went over to Tom's Steakhouse in Melrose Park for dinner. I absolutely love Tom's Steakhouse and have been eating there for years. We went there for dinner during the National and I had a strip steak which was amazing. I wanted to try something else this time and went with prime rib which was very good. Dave had his usual T-bone steak, it looked really good. Larry went with the salmon which also looked tasty. A great way to cap off a great day!
I was back early at the Stephens Center on Sunday morning for my free doughnut and coffee. I watched one lady grab an entire box and bring it back to her booth. Come on now. I know the doughnuts are free but it is bad form to take an entire box.
Anyway, back at the booth, I had to rearrange the cards in my display cases to fill all the holes. I was able to get out all of my basketball and hockey cards. Sales were a little slower on Sunday but still a good-size crowd. Scott was my big winner and purchased a pile of football cards. Scott told me he has almost completed all of the Topps baseball sets from the 1950's through the 1970s. I forgot that he was working on football as well. Thanks for the purchases Scott!
Other than Scott, I had a lot of small sales on Sunday. Overall, I probably had my best Sun-Times/Sports Spectacular show ever. I was pretty happy. There is nothing better than rocking out the show!
Now I gotta talk about my pal Dave, a little bit. Dave has a hidden talent. He is a self-taught master chef. The entire time I have known him, he has always talked about these amazing meals he prepares. At this past show, he brought me a sample of this roast he cooked up. He said he put a rub on the meat, smoked and grilled it. The meal took hours to complete. Oh my! That sample he brought me, may have been the best thing I have ever tasted in my life!! I placed an order. Man, I wish Dave had a restaurant. Such a shame to keep those skills to himself. He needs to share with the world!
On the buying front, I had steady purchases all three days and took in quite a haul. All the purchases were from dealers I know and the price was right. Not much negotiation. I did have one random customer offer me some nice Fatima team cards on Sunday. I can't remember how many he had but he wanted $3,100 for the group. I did not have the funds on me, wish I did. They were nice! He said one dealer offered $2,900 and I think he was going to take the offer.
Load out on Sunday went smoothly. I thought the one southern guy was going to die though. He was just the helper and the main guy made him take at least three trips with the cart all loaded up to the parking lot across the street, long before the show ended. It is a bit off a walk as you wind through the covered walkway. I thought old boy was going to pass out and die. I also thought that was cruel thing to do. Why make an old, overweight, out of shape guy push a heavy cart all that way? I know he was the helper but he could have had a heart attack. Weird dudes. I won't miss them.
But I will miss this show. Great sales makes a great show and I was sorry to see it end. I am debating about setting up at their summer show. It is tough call because the summer show is traditionally awful and they don't reduce the table fee. I have to think about this one.
In the meantime, Dave and I are off to Strongsville, OH, on Thursday for the three-day vintage show. It has been three years since I was last in Strongsville and am looking forward to the show!
No rest for the weary because the week after Strongsville is my show in Oak Creek on April 2nd. Whew! Crazy days!!
A big thank you to everyone who purchased cards from me at the Sports Spectacular. It sure was fun talking to everybody. Hope to see you again soon!!
I don't have much in the way of photos from the Sports Spectacular. I was crazy busy at the show on Friday and did not get a chance to snap more than the one of the Detroit guys' booth. I forgot my phone at home on Saturday, so couldn't take any photos. Then I just plain forgot to snap any photos on Sunday. So pictured below are my purchases from the show. I then included some photos from my friend Bill Nest. As an autograph hound, Bill was in heaven at this show as the biggest names in sports from past and present are always there signing autographs. Thanks Bill!