AU Sports Memorabilia
AU Sports moves to Niles, Illinois, keeping it among the largest vintage baseball card stores anywhere
Mom not only didn't throw out the cards, she bought millions more
AU Sports Memorabilia store, north of
Audre and Eddie Gold
Steve Gold's mom, Audre, was not your typical baseball card collector's mom. Audre Gold not only hung onto Steve and his brother Bruce's cards, she bought a few million more herself. Steve described their start in the business to me as follows: "I was thirteen, and my dad was a sportswriter for the Sun-Times. I wrote an article about an ex-boxer running a card show. My dad placed the article on the back page of the Sun-Times. In appreciation, the boxer gave my dad a free table. My dad was going out of town to cover the Blackhawks and couldn't be there. My brother and I had a shoe box full of baseball cards, so my mom drove us to the show. With our one shoe box and some old sports magazines, we made $300. This was the early 70s, when candy bars were still a nickel." From this modest start, the cards seemed to keep rolling into the Gold household.
Store Opens in 1980
The old store’s sign says it all
stores at one time; they have dwindled over the years. The Sports Collectors Store, run by Pat Quinn, the late Don Steinbach, and Roger Marth, was one of the first and most established stores for vintage material. It finally closed several years ago. Somehow AU Sports kept going with seemingly little change in their offerings. The Golds’ 30 year-old son, Steve, joined the business full-time in 1988. Steve and brother Bruce had helped at the store since it opened.
Eddie Gold, Sports Writer
Steve's dad, Eddie, was with the Chicago Sun-Times from 1951 to 2002. He wrote their sports trivia column for 45 years and authored or co-authored seven books on Chicago Cub history. If you stopped into the store when Eddie was there, it was impossible not to get into a discussion involving baseball trivia. According to Steve, his dad really didn't know much about the cardboard. It was mostly his mom's responsibility. Audre Gold and her husband Eddie both died in 2002 and Steve Gold continued running the business. Eddie had helped bring in local sports figures into the store, a practice which Steve has continued. For example, AU Sports recently had current back-up Cubs catcher Koyie Hill at the store to sign autographs after a Cubs game.
I caught Steve and his crew of Xavier Rivera, Tom Robak, and
the rest of the gang right in the middle of moving out of the old store in
Skokie and into the new store at 5629 W. Touhy,
A 30-year accumulation of vintage material moved out of the old store
also plenty of Sports Illustrated magazines, Baseball Digests, RC Cola cans, posters, Wheaties boxes, Whiffle ball boxes – a beautiful collage of stuff for the vintage sports collector.
Left to right: Xavier Rivera, Steve Gold, and Tom Robak of AU Sports, now of Niles, Illinois
Boxes were everywhere on moving day
Tom Robak of AU Sports on moving day. The new location, like the old, has floor to ceiling 2,500-count boxes of vintage baseball cards
The new Niles store was the opposite, at least on day one: a place for everything and everything in its place. The entire south wall of the store was solid 2,500-count boxes of baseball and football cards stacked eight feet high, about 4 million cards all in order. Parking at the old store was an adventure. The frontage on Dempster Street was very busy with cars speeding past and no parking in front. You had to know that there was an alley and some parking behind the store. If you made it to the Dempster Street store, it was your goal. You wouldn’t just wander in. The new store is in a large shopping mall with plenty of free parking right in front of the store.
Dozens of Cards to Chose From
What makes the excursion to AU Sports enjoyable, in my opinion, is the ability to look at maybe 50 cards of the same player in a set. If you are looking for a certain condition, centering, variation, printing difference, multiples of the same player, or are trying to complete sets, this is the place to come. In some other stores I've visited, you are not allowed the opportunity to go through multiple cards on your own. The proprietor will do the searching and picking. There are very few card stores around that have an inventory of vintage material like this one. AU has over 10 million cards and few are from post 1990. Just in the last few years, AU began buying the new issues again as they come out and will sell packs and boxes. Steve Gold doesn't buy much from individuals unless it is pre-1970 material. Steve enjoys that part of the business, although it is not unusual for a walks-in to boast that they have thousands of old cards – from 1988.
No Fuss Cardboard
Steve and his gang don't fuss over the cardboard that much, which is refreshing in an era when people are getting Topps reprints graded by PSA and offering them on the internet for $15 a piece. At AU Sports, star cards are protected in plastic sleeves but not graded. The abundant commons from the 60s and later are just lined up in the long boxes and are not in sleeves. The 2,500-count boxes may have just 50 numbers from the set with typically 40 to 70 cards of each number. In the early 1970s issues, the 2,500-count boxes have only 20 card numbers which means there are usually over 100 duplicates of each card. You sense that the owner feels that the cards are meant to be enjoyed as a hobby, not as investments.
Steve keeps the overhead (and direct expenses) low. He doesn't do much advertising. Since he doesn't buy much new product, he can control when and what he spends for vintage cards. If he were to start to run low on older cards, he could dig through the many boxes of unsorted cards obtained over the years to replenish the inventory.
Wheaties boxes with some elderly flakes
Shows and the Internet
The Golds have had a table at every National. They have been
at just about every major
Steve started collecting in the late 1960s. He sold his personal collection of 1948 to 1980 cards a few years ago in what he viewed as a very practical move. His practical philosophy has been to not look back and regret selling cards too cheaply or taking a pass on buying cards that were too expensive. Steve feels that resales elevate the prices. For example, he mentioned THE Wagner card had escalated from a few thousand to over a million. If that card had stayed in one collection for a long time, Steve felt that the price would not be so high. It is only after the card has been resold a few times that the price escalated significantly. If prices of cards he has sold escalate later on, that is great for the collector. The dealer too benefits as other prices increase. Steve will still have more than a few cards left if he suddenly sold a million or so of them. He has a positive attitude telling me: "You do not know what treasures will come in tomorrow."
Mom and Pop
AU Sports has survived nicely doing the same old thing, giving collectors what they want. The store is run by knowledgeable collectors who know the old cards and remember the early days of the hobby. Like any store with many items and modest staff, if things get busy, it is hard to give every person coming in the door the “royal treatment.” No one will hover over you as you make your way through the store. You never got “hustled” by anyone at AU Sports. Just look around and let them know what you need…..or not. AU Sports is the mom and pop store that has endured where others have not.
Copyright 2009 George Vrechek
George Vrechek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
AU Sports Memorabilia is located at 5629 W. Touhy Ave, Niles, Illinois 60714
phone 847-647-8311, internet AUSPORTS@AOL.com
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