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July 22, 2010

Merchants hope crowd will boost business

— Main Street merchants have their fingers crossed that this year’s National Baseball Hall of Fame induction festivities will bring people and their pocketbooks into their shops.

On Monday afternoon, several business owners said sales have been down so far this year and they really could use a pick-me-up. Jeff Foster, owner of Legends are Forever, said he has seen business falter quite a bit since 2008.

``I’ve been here a long time so I have expectations to where we should be at,’’ said Foster, who has owned his shop for 16 years.

Foster said the state of the economy has been bad and he hopes things go back to ``normal’’ by next year.

``I have expectations of staying in business,’’ he said. ``The one thing that makes me feel a little better is the whole country is in the same boat.’’

Foster said it is hard to predict how many people will come to Cooperstown for Induction Weekend. He said business was so-so last year. Throughout the years, Foster has been selling merchandise in the village, he said the 2007 induction of Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn truly stands out.

That year broke attendance records. Foster said his delivery of inducteespecific merchandise came in late so when all the other shops had run out, he was mobbed with people still looking to purchase items. ``We sold out within a couple of hours,’’ he said.

Foster said he will carry some inducteespecific items this year such as pictures and T-shirts of ``The Hawk,’’ Andre Dawson.

There is not a lot of stuff out there that features umpires, said Foster referring to this year’s induction of longtime umpire Doug Harvey.

The shop will stay open longer hours of Induction Weekend, according to Foster. He said the shop’s normal business hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., but he intends to extend hours from 8 a.m. to around 10:30 p.m. this weekend. Everybody on staff will be working, said Foster.

Some items that sell particularly well during Induction Weekend according to Foster are his All-Star  Jerseys, because the game is heldso closely to the weekend, and ``Road Trip’’ T-shirts, because everybody who comes into the shop is on some sort of road trip from some where.

Sasha Gagarin, owner of Extra Innings located at 54 Main St., said business has been slow this summer but has picked up with Induction Weekend coming up. Gagarin said she is running a ton of sales and hopes to get rid of most of her merchandise this weekend.

Gagarin, who has sold merchandise during four Induction Weekends, said she plans to have Andre Dawson autographed pictures and baseballs for sale. She said she also has manager cards of six-time division-winning manager Whitey Herzog. It is hard to get items that feature umpires, said Gagarin when referring to Harvey.

According to Gagarin, Jason Heyward and Stephen Strasburg’s rookie cards have been a big seller for her this summer and she has tons of them. Gagarin said she is hoping for a good crowd this weekend.

``I think a lot of people will come down from Canada as well as from Chicago for Dawson,’’ she said. ``St. Louis fans have always been great and I think they will definitely come to support Whitey Herzog.’’

Extra Innings is typically open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., but Gagarin said she plans to extend the shop’s hours from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

When asked which induction year was the most memorable, Gagarin said, ``Ripken, no question.’’ Gagarin said she believes the 2013 induction has the potential to be a big one because former Mets catcher Mike Piazza will be a candidate in the running.

``I don’t think it will break the record of Ripken’s year though,’’ said Gagarin. She said it would take someone like Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter to do that.

Keisha Vita, who is employed at Extra Innings, said this will be her first year in Cooperstown for Induction Weekend. Vita is from Cassville and said she is anticipating an experience of a lifetime.

``I think there will be a lot of people and I am excited to meet a lot of famous ballplayers,’’ she said.

``I expect to see Cooperstown at its best while at the height of the season,’’ she added.

Mickey’s Place is celebrating its 20th year in the village. The shop began on 139 Main St. and moved to its current location, 74 Main St., in 1992.

Owner Vinnie Russo said throughout the 20 years of being a businessman it is hard to judge the size of the crowd for Induction Weekends, but is anticipating it to be comparable to last year’s crowd of about 1,500.

``Whenever you have players that have played most of their career in cities that are not within a driving distance it’s harder to project what kind of crowd there will be,’’ said Russo.

Russo said he is uncertain whether or not people from Montreal will come support Dawson or not. Dawson had a great career while he was there but the Expos are not there anymore, said Russo.

``I am not quite sure how people from Montreal will respond,’’ said Russo. ``St. Louis and Chicago fans have always been very loyal so that is a positive.’’

Russo said business has been ``decent’’ this summer, but said it could ``always be better.’’

He said he will not be buying inductee-specific merchandise in any great quantity this year because of the unpredictability of the size of the crowd.

``It’s not as if a player who played for one of the teams from the Eastern coast is being inducted into the Hall,’’ said Russo.

The most memorable Induction Weekend for Russo was in 1995 when Mike Schmidt.

``No one had any idea the amount of people that would come from Philly and show such a great amount of enthusiasm,’’ said Russo.

As far as sales go, Russo said the Ripken/ Gwynn year and the 1999 inductions of Nolan Ryan and George Brett were biggies.

The nature of the products customers are looking for has changes since the early ’90s, according to Russo. He said memorabilia and baseball cards had a much more dominant presence back then and collectors didn’t care so much about the in-person signings. That really became big throughout the years, but seems to be dwindling back down again, said Russo.

Russo said if customers are still in the shop with money to buy things he will keep the doors open for business. The plan is to be open until about 10 or 10:30, he said. Mickey’s Place is generally open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

According to Hall of Fame spokesperson Craig Muder, the museum’s shop stocks up on induction exclusive merchandise each year. To view merchandise available, visit shop.baseballhall. org.

The 2010 special edition induction bat will go on sale at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Muder said the bats are probably the most in demand product for sale during Induction Weekend. The 2010 HOF Induction Stamp Cachets will go on sale at 8 a.m. on Sunday, and inductee plaque postcards will be available on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The shop w will be open on Friday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Monday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. People do not need to purchase museum admission in order to go into the shop, said Muder. He said items will also be available for purchase at the Induction Ceremony site starting at 8:30 a.m.

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