Monday, May 2, 2011

'Big' Empty

It's hard for most collectors to know what it takes to run a shop.
Most of us stop in once a week, twice a month or just whenever. The shop owners know it and try to be there for us - even if that means two jobs, seemingly endless commutes and 90-hour work weeks.
One of the best - Big John and Little Debby's in Chicago - has joined the ranks of great shops whose run has ended.
John and Debby Arcand spent more than two decades serving a loyal band of collectors, but formally turned out the lights on their shop one last time over the weekend.
The couple operates an electrical manufacturing business and live a headache-inducing commute from their former Devon Avenue storefront. John often compared the decision to that of a ballplayer knowing when its time to end it, doing so with a tip of the cap and no complaints.
At their most-recent, and final, pack wars, John reminded the 60 or so people crammed into the long, narrow shop that the decision was not a reflection on anyone or anything other than a need for change.
He and Debby weren't leaving because of frustration at the hobby or the manufacturers, and it certainly wasn't because of anything their customers had done.
It was just time. John wants to know what his house looks like in daylight. He wants to remember what a weekend off is like.
Sure, I'm selfish. When a reliable, well-run shop closes up, it's another reminder of how much the hobby has changed. In 2009, I wrote about the demise of my neighborhood shop, but it put me on the path to eventually finding the Arcands.
Despite the drive from my suburban home, which is closer to the Arcand home than their store, it was worth it to soak in the shop's atmosphere and to chat with two genuinely nice people.
What they represented to their customers - friends is what John and Debby call them - and the hobby in general stood out enough for me to write about them for a story that appeared in the July 2010 Beckett Sports Card Monthly (pictured above).
John and Debby vow to stick around the hobby, still setting up at the Chicago Sun-Times shows each spring and fall, while also doing The National each year. The Northern Illinois Hobby Retailers, a group John found with several other Chicago-area shop owners, will also live on.
They also won't stop working on behalf of collectors who are often on the short end of the hobby stick with the card companies.
Thanks to Big John and Little Debby for their tireless work to keep the hobby alive through their little corner of the industry. You might never be entirely gone, but you'll be missed by all those who visited your shop.

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 6-year-old and an understanding wife.

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