Reminiscences - Part XXXII
by Michael Rogers
Starting the Winter Park Stamp Shop
My friend David Cunningham, a local attorney and accomplished philatelist, convinced me that I had the ability to start a business and set up a storefront on ritzy Park Avenue in Winter Park. It became a team effort of folks I’d known along the way, those I’d sold stamps to, who were willing to provide services to remodel the store and delay their payment in stamps until I could afford to do so.
When Winter Park Stamp & Coin Shop opened up in June 1978, while business was good, the first year was pretty tense. Imitating my grandfather in the early days of his dry-goods store, I’d display the single Scott National album that I had in stock, placing it on top of a box which implied more were in stock; then when that one sold, I called up the supplier to get another one in.
Failure never entered my mind just like I never imagined the successes of today. Being a stamp dealer was all I wanted, and having a stamp shop offered security. Betting on the avenue was that my business wouldn’t last six months because I didn’t have the money or inventory and the competition was fierce.
I couldn’t afford much, but expenses were negligible. Rent was $215 monthly for my 516 square feet and I didn’t have any employees. I was working six days a week. Being "on the Avenue" meant meeting all kinds of folks and I’ve always been a people person, easy to get along with. A lack of inventory was overcome by being personable which brought collectors back to the shop week after week.
I developed a reputation for buying anything. As a voracious reader, I built a wide-ranging library. These were the times when most dealers thought their sets of Scott catalogues sufficed. Having a specialized handbook by my side gave me the juice to be a smarter buyer and seller. Imagine the possibilities!
I’d heard about "lines of credit." After six months in business, I’d built my working capital up to $10,000 and I wanted the security of knowing that I could do more if the opportunity presented itself. My bank didn’t cater to businesses, so I walked to one down the street.
"Well, Mr Rogers, you can use your $10,000 as security, and we’ll lend you $5,000 on a line of credit" the bank officer said. A foul offer I thought. Now why would I want to tie up twice my money? "To establish credit with us," he said. He went on about how stamp collecting was just for children and what would happen if my business would fail. He’s worried about his $5,000 with $10,000 security? I smirked and left.
I knew a dynamic young attorney who impressed me as having the insight of thinking outside the box. I proposed a partnership of his money and opportunities that I would provide, with profits being split 50/50. Peter provided seed money for a good many purchases in 1979-80, getting my company in a good position. Now I could write a check for any amount.
Com-Bank was an aggressive newcomer to Winter Park. When a branch opened up on Park Avenue, I approached the branch manager, Laura Badawi, for a line of credit. This time I didn’t hear the reservations about a start-up company dealing in postage stamps. Her thinking was that she would grant me a $25,000 signature loan right away, and if I could handle it, review it in a year.
The signature loan was increased to $100,000! Now I was not compelled to give up 50% of the profits.
I had a real small coin inventory, basically 100 or so silver coins in 2" x 2" cardboard holders displayed on the wall. Our town is rightfully famous for the annual Winter Park Art Show, where 250,000 visitors will pack the park bordering Park Avenue. A tourist attending the 1979 show purchased my entire coin stock in one fell swoop, effectively changing the name of the shop. As there were three coin shops within six blocks of me, I doubted anyone would regret if I didn’t restock the coins.
John McDaniel had the other stamp shop down the street from me but I had the great advantage of being a street level store. In order to visit John, one had to climb two long flights of stairs. Mighty daunting for older folks.
McDaniel made it easier for me by playing the bully, so his customers were curious why he was insecure. Once they visited my shop, they rarely returned to him. I imagine it was deeply frustrating for him, being the long established stamp dealer in Central Florida, then seeing most of his local clientele decamp for my store which was a half block away.
One of my favorite collectors came into the shop cursing his physician. Turned out at age 92, Carl was now restricted from playing golf. I was so relieved. Then came the news that he had to give up stamp collecting because of his eyes. I wouldn’t be the one to buy his wonderful worldwide 28 Master Global volume collection because I couldn’t afford it. It took a couple of tries but I found a buyer to Carl’s liking who purchased his collection intact.
Mary Weikert was a gracious lady continuing her family collection. She would stop by every week mid morning after her beauty salon appointment. Knowing her schedule, I’d make certain that a comfortable seat would be available for her, positioned so her driver could escort her into the shop effortlessly.
Husband John was a retired Air Force major general who served in the Japanese theater during the 1940s. John courted Mary in a horse drawn carriage on Fifth Avenue across from Central Park in New York City.
Mary would cap her weekly philatelic expenditures at $1,000. When her grand-daughter would accompany her, she’d bump it up. I would save some cherry items for her from my new purchases.
Though these fine people have been gone for so many years, I will always consider them my friends
This article is edited differently from the magazine version.
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