He wouldn’t leave his shop, Don’s Coins and Collectibles, long enough to talk with me over lunch.
“What’s your middle name,” I goaded.
“Denton.” After his grandfather’s middle name.
Don reflected on how his late wife, Regina, had inspired his love for collectibles.
“She worked with the newborns at Rockford Hospital, and was known as the Beanie lady. She’d sit in a chair, rock the babies and the girls, the nurses, couldn’t get downstairs to the gift shop where the Beanies were. So she’d go get the Beanies for them.
“Pretty soon,” Don remembered, “we’d end up driving around, picking up Beanies from different Ty wholesalers.”
“Just helping,” he said, matter-of-factly
“Then your entrepreneurial wheels started turning?”
“Yeah–there’s money to be made in this,” he recalled, punctuating the memory jog with his distinctive belly laugh.
“Yep. I did that too,” he told me.
“Are Teenie’s still valuable?” I asked.
“No. You can’t get even 50 cents for them. They gave millions of them things out. I couldn’t drink that much coffee, so I’d go throw that in the dumpster.”
Don recalled seeing lines around the block to stores in Beanie’s heydays.
“The people running these stores were selling out in about two hours; they wouldn’t have to sell another Beanie for the rest of the month. They paid the rent, the lights, the gas bills.”
“We’d put up a tent, Saturday and Sunday. We’d make anywhere from $2000 to maybe $4000 on a weekend, at about a 60 percent profit. Back then we were paying $5 and selling them for $15. A dealer pays $2.50. Some sold for $50, $60, $70. Now they’re selling for less than $5.
“But you were always into collectibles,” I said.
“I was working for my dad’s grocery store in Rockford. My dad told me I had goofed up enough at 11, so I became a butcher.”
“Aren’t there child labor laws?” I half-kidded.
“Not when you’re working for your dad,” he explained. But it was at the store that Don began to appreciate collectible coins. There was nothing better than exchanging coins out of the cash register, a penny for a penny, a nickel for a nickel, to fill all those books up,” he said, pointing to the coin books in his shop.
“I had those too,” I told him.
“This bis good mostaccioli” I remarked.
“It sure is,” he agreed. “Lots of mozzarella on the top,” he added.
“When I was 16, I found out my brother was taking me.” he told me.
“He collected Indian pennies that came through the store. Problem was, I would put a penny in the cash register, take it home to him, he’d give me a penny for it, and he’d run to the coin shop and get a quarter apiece for ‘em.”
“How much older was he than you?” “He was younger,” Don said.
“Let me get this straight, your younger brother was taking you for a ride?”
“Yep. Probably looked through one of my books that I never bothered to look at, the red book with the prices inside.”
“The price of ignorance,” I echoed.
“Yep, he didn’t get no more pennies.”
“I loved it. There was only one little problem. I went to college. I was going to be another (big name) grocer.”
“You wanted a chain?”
Then after one semester away, my father sold the damn store.
“Right under your feet! Did he tell you?”
“That would make you a little bitter,” I said.
“Yep.” Don’s stereotypic John Wayne style said much in a few words. …to be continued