I have set up at them all. My favorite locations have always been old schools. There is just something so right about a show at an old-time school. Maybe it is because of my affection for vintage cards that I like to be at a show in a vintage school, or maybe it is because I am old school (see what I did there?).
My all-time favorite show and my all-time favorite location has been the Wisconsin Sports Collectors Association's show at Gonzaga Hall, located in the basement of an old Catholic school.
Gonzaga Hall felt like my grandmother's basement. I think grandma had the same tile, walls and windows in her basement. I loved being in grandma's basement. She was a hoarder and there was lots to explore down there. Gonzaga, like grandma's basement, always had a lot to explore. It felt like home.
I loved how the sound system for the auction never seemed to work. I loved how the hall was hot in both summer and winter. Then there was poor Keith always struggling to try and get the air conditioning to work. I never minded the heat because it was part of the the atmosphere.
Then there is the concession stand with the smallish window leading into a large kitchen with huge sinks. That kitchen reminded me of the one I had to clean at my first job in 1979 as a janitor at a day camp.
I must mention the bathrooms with the urinals that go down to the floor and the air dryers that never really dry anything.
Put Gonzaga Hall together with the Wisconsin Sports Collectors Association, a non-profit group that began in 1975, and you have a match made in heaven. I love the fact that original members of the WSCA still set up and visit the show. I was lucky enough to meet and to get to know some of the founders like Leroy Kilps and Mike Rodell, who were such great characters and gone way too soon.
These guys, and now Leroy's son Keith, have made the Gonzaga Hall show feel like a family event. Keith treats me so well. His mom used to bake the most wonderful cake and sell slices at the concession stand. I miss her too. Another gone too soon.
The guys who run the auction do a tremendous job and nobody gets paid. The purpose of the WSCA show is to raise money for charity. These good folks have been doing good deeds for a long, long time.
While the WSCA is in good hands with Keith, turns out the last Gonzaga Hall show was the one held in February of 2020, as the WSCA show shut down in March of 2020 because of the pandemic and is finally reopening on May 23, 2021, at Buenavista Banquets & Restaurant, 7507 W. Oklahoma Ave., Milwaukee. The church that owns Gonzaga Hall sold the building.
Man, am I going to miss Gonzaga Hall! I have so many good memories and have had so many good times and so many good shows at Gonzaga Hall. I first learned about the Gonzaga Hall show about 20-something years ago while setting up at some Chicago area shows. People were always talking about it, so I decided to give it a shot, having never been there and with no idea on how to even get there.
I found Leroy's phone number in Beckett, called and booked a table. I wanted two but he only had one available. I don't remember if I used Mapquest or a GPS to get to that first show. Being from Illinois, I don't know my way around Milwaukee, even though I have been regularly going to Milwaukee my whole life. My folks always took me to the Zoo and Brewers games growing up. In high school, I could drink legally in Wisconsin while I was underage in Illinois. I ended up driving to Milwaukee every weekend during my senior year of high school. I have a long history of having good times in Milwaukee.
That first table at my very first Gonzaga show some 20 years ago was located in the back, near the men's restroom. You would have thought I had the plague or something that day. Practically nobody came to my table while the room was jam packed with customers. I think I brought out one display case and some of my baseball binders for that first show. I did not have a whole lot of space, just one six-foot table. I remember feeling handicapped with such a small amount of space.
Just three people stopped at my table during my first Gonzaga show 20 years ago. PJ was the first one. He made some offers on some of my cards that I turned down. I was setting up every weekend in the Chicago area at the time and did not want to dump my inventory. PJ and I have since become friends and we set up together at the National.
Then came Mark Skladowski (I'm probably misspelling your name, Mark, sorry!) showed up as my very first customer. Mark treated me like an old friend on that very first day and has done so ever since. Thank you Mark!
Then came Jim Ziegert who also treated me like an old friend on that first day. The thing I love about Jim is that he always looks out for me. Over the next few shows, Jim hooked me up with all sorts of people selling cards. I owe Jim for life for all the great deals he set me up with over the years.
I might not have made many sales at that first show but I made life-long friends in Mark, Jim and PJ.
I never had the same table location at the first several Gonzaga shows I attended. Leroy would give me spot when a regular dealer could not make it. There were many times where I could not get a table at all because none of the regular dealers cancelled. I thought Leroy was joking when he told me I couldn't get a table until someone died. I learned he wasn't joking when he had no table for me during the next four shows.
I was about to give up when Leroy called and said he had a permanent spot for me. Then my sales really picked up. Folks got to know me and I had quite a few regulars before long. At the same time, I was also setting up in Orland Park and the Fred Copp shows in Illinois. Gonzaga soon became my best show for both buying and selling.
With Jim, Mike Rodell and Keith regularly sending sellers my way, I took home a huge haul after each Gonzaga show. I started to find cards for Mike. If you remember, Mike used to sell Brewers team sets. He always needed 1972 high number Brewers. I would pick them up at the other shows and sell them to Mike for about what I paid for them. Mike was appreciative and sent many vintage customers my way.
Then there was this one time Mike wanted me to pull out all of my Ken Aspromonte cards. Mike was close friends with all the old Milwaukee Braves players and his buddy Ken had just lost all of his cards in a fire. I regret not digging up the cards for Mike. At the time, I knew it would take me a while to find all of the cards and I was pressed for time pricing my new inventory for the shows between setting up every weekend, working all week and keeping my wife and kids happy. I am actually the worst when people want me to dig out cards for them, I just never seem to have the time to get it done. I should have done that for Mike and I feel bad about it to this day.
Then there is Keith, an absolute superstar. No show promoter has taken better care of me than Keith. First off, Keith let me move from my one table in the back of the room to four tables by the front door. I have been in that location for years now and it has been so great to have all that space and to be one of the first dealers customers see when they come in the door.
Keith also has sent so many sellers over to me over the years that I am forever in his debt. A couple of note include the lady who was rehabbing her kitchen and found 40 or 50 1955 Bowman baseball card wrappers in the wall. I think I sold most of those wrappers as soon as I got them to Mark Skladowski. Then there was the lady who inherited complete sets from her father of 1933, 1934 and 1938 Goudey. I drove out to Madison to see the cards -- one of the best card experiences of my life. I had so much fun going through those cards. The lady, Erica, was very patient with me. I think she got bored after a while and left me alone with those cards as I spent hours marveling at the Ruths, Gehrigs and Dimaggios.
I did not have the money to purchase the cards myself but offered to help Erica sell them. I contacted one of the large auction houses on her behalf and set up a meeting between Erica and a rep from the auction house. The auction house had some of the cards graded and placed the sets individually up for auction. Erica took home a nice sum of money. After the auction, Erica offered to pay me for setting her up with the auction house. I declined because the auction house paid me a finder's fee and I just had so much fun handling the cards. Plus, Erica is a super nice person and I am still in contact with her.
I have made so many friends at the Gonzaga show, too many to mention. I am so disappointed that we cannot have another show there. I am sure the new location will be great but nothing can replace Gonzaga Hall. I am going to miss that place terribly.
I can't make the first show at the new location because I already committed to the Orland Park show but I should be at all of the rest of them this year. I do look forward to this new chapter of the WSCA show and am glad to be a part of it. I am also looking forward to shoveling tacos and burritos down my gullet at each show. I absolutely love Mexican food and plan to gain a few pounds from the new location.
In the meantime, I would love to hear your memories of the Gonzaga show. I know there were many great finds at the show. Please use the comment section below. Let's take a walk down memory lane.
Now for some pictures....
First photo up top is my tables at the November 2011 show.