HIRING THE BEST PEOPLE WE CAN
Grandpa and Grandma Berner lived the American dream. Emigrating to New
York in 1920, they found work as a stock clerk and seamstress.
Grandpa’s diligence impressed his boss enough to introduce him
to others in the trade. Pooling their savings, my grandparents
soon had a dry goods store of their own, backed by good credit.
Berner’s, never a large affair, made its way through the
Depression and fed a family.
Continuing a family tradition, I worked one summer with my grandparents
in the store. Cousins Martin, now an attorney, and Milton, a
corporate accountant, had summered in the store, learning that
retail was monotonous and hard work, exactly as planned. The
immigrant generation had to work, bypassing an education. Now
they wanted their children and grandchildren to be educated and
So here I was, a 12 year old, helping out in the store. Ladies
housedresses were a big seller as were men’s pants. I remember
“dressing the window,” pins in my mouth, Grandpa outside the
plate glass motioning where I should position each article of
Grandpa queried me at summer’s end. I thought it a great adventure!
Expecting he’d hear the same as my cousins, he said I learned
the wrong lesson. Get an education first, then you’ll have a
Well, I have the education. To the consternation of my parents, I elected
to become a stamp dealer after college.
I opened Winter Park Stamp Shop on tony Park Avenue in June of 1978. Park
Avenue is the premier shopping destination of all of Central
Florida. Instant name recognition. The Avenue gave a stamp shop
credibility. An audacious move because my total net worth was
$6,000 including inventory.
I had some things going for me. As I was desperately short of funds, I
had to be very careful setting up the shop. As it was Park
Avenue, it had to be first rate. The interior designer was into
stamps so we traded; her father build the cabinetry (yup, he
collected), the electrician collected, and on down the line.
Little came out of my pocket. What I didn’t have in stock we put
Betting on the Avenue was that I’d last six months. (I closed the store
in December, 2007, after 29 years!) John McDaniel had his own
place down the street but he was on the second floor without the
visibility that a street level shop provides. Still, he’d been
in town for years with a formidable inventory.
Winter Park Stamp Shop never could have succeeded without others working
in the shop. I knew what I knew and was the first to acknowledge
what I didn’t know. I remember what a dealer told me in my youth
about being a stamp dealer. Remember that not one person knows
it all so hire the best people you can. I’ve followed those
words best I could.
I lucked into Bob Womack who was so adept on United States that we used
to joke he could put his finger on a stamp and tell you the
watermark. Enormously talented in U.S. and worldwide, both
stamps and postal history, Bob wanted nothing more than to stay
in the background, playing with stamps.
My friend Alvin Hintz hurt his back working in the warehouse company he’d
been in for over a decade. I hired him for the shop as he had a
soft-spoken demeanor and got along with everyone. A lifelong
British Commonwealth collector, Alvin stayed for 19 years.
Having a shop means of life of anecdotes. You never know what’s going to
Inevitably there’d be the good natured competition between us. John had
brought me into town as his employee; now I was his equal,
albeit his junior. He’d made it easier for me as I’d worked for
him in 1973-76 over the counter, making friends with local
collectors. I know John found it perplexing that any business
came my way. Location, location, location.
A guy in advertising named Charlie Patterson came up with the idea of a
monthly newsletter; I called it the Central Florida Stamp
News. Expanding to eight legal-sized pages, it carried a
“Point of View” column with price lists, employee bios and stamp
One day a man came in huffing and puffing, gray in his face, so I gave
him a cup of water. He said that if I wanted to buy his stamp
collections, I needed to accompany him to his truck to view.
What he had were over 1,000 pounds of Postal Commemorative
Society 22 carat gold plated first day covers and such. Big
heavy sets that cost someone a bundle but aren’t worth diddly in
the secondary market. He’d been to McDaniel’s but John made him
carry everything (!) upstairs just to be told he didn’t buy that
kind of stuff.
Would I buy it? You betcha! I was on the Avenue, so I just knew they
would sell, just not near the original price. So we struck a
deal and I bought the batch. Hardest part was lugging them in.
As my shop had but 516 square feet, the trick was to use what little
space we had to the best advantage. The back of the shop was
reserved for the library which grew over the years to over a
thousand volumes. In the day when most dealers were content with
the Scott and Harris catalogues, I could maximize my dollars
because I had the ability to research what came in the door. My
rule was never sell anything unless I understood it.
A gentleman offered the U.S. 1922 high values affixed to parcel tags.
These aren’t addressed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue, but
you’ll find them in auction catalogues. Then it was a matter of
placing my purchases with appreciative buyers.
Some dealers will tell you the best thing about owning a stamp shop is
the buying opportunities. I had a different take.
I loved having a stamp shop because I made so many friendships. Sure, I’d
have obnoxious or rude people occasionally, but I’d play a game
with myself to see if I could turn them around. Folks would come
in the shop and I’d be helpful filling their needs so it was
only natural sitting across the counter chatting away. We’d
intersperse stamps with family and more. My sense was that I’d
spend eight hours working so what better way than with friends?
Every day’s a blessing!
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