Memorabilia Just A Slap Shot Away

December 13, 2002
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ROCKFORD — You might be surprised to learn that sports memorabilia is a $20 billion a year business nationally. But it is, at least according to NBC News.

And the area has a handful of merchants who trade in that lucrative field. Baseball Card City and Lange's Sports are just two that have been buying and selling memorabilia for years now, and doing so from the south side of the county.

The latest local entry in the growing memorabilia market, however, is a small shop in Rockford that features a full line of autographed Detroit Red Wings pucks, photos and jerseys, along with such unsigned items as bobble heads, street signs and mini Zambonis.

Jim and Kelly DeWinter started Slap Shot Collectibles at 49 E. Bridge St. in September and business has been pretty good for the Rockford couple since then.

Jim DeWinter told the Business Journal that when they opened, they hoped for a daily take of $100, just to keep the doors open. But they've easily surpassed that modest figure. In just its first 11 weeks, Slap Shot sold $23,000 worth of merchandise with little in the way of advertising. Almost all of those sold items have been signed by the defending Stanley Cup champions.

And that figure is from the shop only. It doesn't include the sales DeWinter has made from the virtual version of his store on e-Bay, while he puts together a Slap Shot Web site.

"That should probably be up after the first of the year," he said.

DeWinter, a St. Clair Shores native who works at the Lear plant in Walker, collected Wings memorabilia for about a decade before he decided to go into the retail end of the business. After he and Kelly moved to Rockford three years ago, he began selling pieces of his collection on the Internet. When their friends and co-workers learned of what he was doing, they urged him to open a store, and he saw an opportunity to fill a void in the market.

"No one really caters just to the Red Wings up here," said DeWinter. "Instead of people having to drive for three hours to get stuff, I figured I'd bring a little bit of Red Wings stuff to West Michigan."

DeWinter is being modest when he says he brought "a little bit" of Wings stuff here. Slap Shot has more autographed Red Wings items than the team-owned retail outlet in Troy does. DeWinter sunk $150,000 into his products and then crammed most of the items into his tiny storefront, while storing the rest in his basement at home. His inventory has an estimated retail value of $1.5 million.

DeWinter sees the area as being a good sports-memorabilia market, and one that will grow. He said local football fans are as rabid as those in Florida, and hockey has taken a giant step into the spotlight since the Grand Rapids Griffins aligned themselves with the Red Wings.

"With the Griffins now affiliated with the Red Wings, I have fans coming out of the woodwork. I didn't realize that there were so many Red Wings fans up here," he said.

"When people come in here, they just freak because nobody has so much Red Wings stuff. It's a good market," he added. "There are a couple other sports shops, but they try to cater to all the different sports. I have a little bit of football here, but most of my stuff is focused on hockey."

In the short time that Slap Shot has been open, DeWinter has already hosted two public signings with a pair of Red Wings legends: Gordie Howe and Scotty Bowman.

Bowman agreed to the signing because DeWinter, through his Detroit connections, was able to get his hands on a tough-to-find bobble head of the coach. Bowman heard that DeWinter had the item, which was sold out almost everywhere else, and called him for a couple of cases. DeWinter obliged and the coach agreed to sign here.

"I wanted the bobble head with the same outfit he was wearing in game five. So when the Red Wings came out with the 10-inch one of him in the sweater vest, that is what I wanted. Mine is an eight-inch version and it's selling real well," he said.

Signings with pro athletes and coaches is a part of the business that DeWinter hopes to get more involved with in the future. Very few of those happen here. So collectors aren't given too many opportunities to meet their sports heroes personally, and DeWinter wants to change that.

Besides Jim and Kelly — who is an Ada native — Kelly's parents also are involved in the family-run business. Her father serves as the store's sales rep with dealers, while her mother takes care of the books. Jim and Kelly are expecting their first child this summer.

DeWinter said his goal, no pun intended, is to expand Slap Shot by next September. He wants to be able to offer more of the unique items he now handles. He is also considering becoming a wholesaler and selling to other memorabilia shops. And right now, he has no plans to leave Rockford.

"Rockford has a lot of individual stores and each store has a little something that is unique to it. It's a good little shopping community on the holidays and weekends. Plus, because it's so close to the house, Kelly can work here," said DeWinter, who has a background in the automotive and aerospace industries.

"I won't mind staying in Rockford. But if I was on 28th Street or the Beltline, I would probably be doubling the sales I'm doing now because of the traffic."           

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