At first glance, you might think Jim Miller’s shop at 125 E. Main St. in Belleville has just baseball cards, autographed photos and all kinds of sports memorabilia for sale.
But Miller envisions more than just the products he offers at the Collector’s Corner.
“Card shops don’t survive anymore,” Miller said. “Now it’s the entertainment business.”
The “entertainment” comes from the autograph shows Miller organizes throughout the year with about 40 sports stars. He arranges appearance fees with stars such as former Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson and manager Whitey Herzog and then customers pay various amounts to get autographs from the stars.
Miller said he gets a kick out of seeing kids’ delightful responses when they meet their sports heroes.
I consider us more of an entertainment business with all the autographs and guests we bring.
Jim Miller of Collector’s Corner
“People want to be entertained and then you can sell some product along the way,” he said. “I consider us more of an entertainment business with all the autographs and guests we bring.”
Miller and Luke Naliborski, who runs the I Had That! vintage toy, game and record store in the back portion of Collector’s Corner, are the two newest members of the unique shops along Main Street in downtown Belleville.
In November, Miller and Naliborski moved from a store on U.S. 50 in O’Fallon to 125 E. Main St. in Belleville.
“This new spot is working out great,” Miller said because he gets more walk-in traffic than he did in O’Fallon, where he ran his store for about three years.
Miller, who opened his first sports collectibles shop in 1999 in New Baden, enjoys the vibe created by the downtown Belleville festivals and he wanted a place near the Public Square. He found it in a three-story, brick building erected in 1854.
Merchandise is displayed on the first two floors and Miller said he and his wife, Linda, may move into the apartment on the third floor.
“The building had a lot of charm,” Miller said, but it needed some repairs. “We did a lot of work to it.”
Peter Riesenberger, an immigrant from the Bavarian region in Germany, built the structure and had a furniture store in the 1860s, according to Bob Brunkow, the historian for the Belleville Historical Society. After the furniture store, there was a succession of stationery stores for about 100 years. Most recently, it was the home for a computer store and then the Sole Survivor leather store.
We call this a labor of love.
Jim Miller of Collector’s Corner
Miller, 52, bought the historic building for $175,000. He has experience in construction and auto body repair and was able to do all the renovations himself and spent less than $5,000 on materials.
“We call this a labor of love,” said Miller, who first met many of the Cardinals stars when he worked for the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. “People tell my wife all the time, ‘You’ve got to be a really good wife’ to let me do this because it’s not the most glamorous thing for income.
“It’s more about we love people,” Miller said. “That’s what we look forward to the most is the fact that the kids come in, their eyes light up. It’s just so much fun, watching them, how excited they get.”
Miller will play host to St. Louis Blues player Vladimir Sobotka at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Belleville shop. From March 23-25, he will have an autograph show at Gateway Classic Cars at 1237 Central Park Drive in O’Fallon. Along with Gibson and Herzog, other former Cardinals scheduled to appear include Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, Bruce Sutter and Jack Clark.
New and old toys
Kids who tag along with their parents can find something to do if they aren’t interested in the sports memorabilia at Collector’s Corner.
They can check out the toys in Naliborski’s shop tucked in the back of the Collector’s Corners.
Naliborski, 40, said he came up with the idea for the store name because he would hear people say, “I had that!” when they spotted vintage toys.
The I Had That! shop has newer products such as the Pop! line of figurines and you can find plenty of Star Wars items from the 1980s. If you like vintage LPs, you can get records such as “Gasoline Alley” by Rod Stewart.
“It’s very nostalgic,” for the customers, Naliborski said of his store.
Like Miller, Naliborski also has hosted autograph sessions. In one recent event, he arranged to have Alex Hill from “The Walking Dead” visit the Belleville store.