Over the past 35 years, the annual Cranston Sports Collectors Show sponsored by the St. Joseph Men’s Guild of the Immaculate Conception Church has netted more than $250,000 for the 2,400-family parish.
On Saturday, Feb. 4, the tradition will continue at the 36th annual event, held at the West Valley Inn from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“It all started right here,” said Thomas McDonough, the show’s founder. “We only had 15 tables back in 1976. This was actually the first of four places where we’ve held the show.”
Because of increased interest and attendance, the Cranston Collectors Show made successful stops at the former Auction City Bingo Hall and the Schofield Armory before it moved to its now permanent home of the last 20 years, West Valley Inn.
“We used to have to rent tables and set them up,” McDonough recalls of those earlier years. “Man that was a lot of work. Now we’re at a perfect place. West Valley Inn has the necessary tables and chairs if needed and our guys don’t really have to lift a finger.”
This year’s show will feature 120 tables filled with a myriad of memorabilia from as far away as Minnesota to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and all six New England states.
“We can’t take any more tables,” McDonough said. “Our show is Mecca for the dealers and collectors. It’s also a reunion for some of our people who’ve been coming here for all 35 years. It’s also our parish’s largest fundraiser and we even boost the local economy somewhat.”
McDonough explained that out-of-state dealers like Johnny Adams stay at Rhode Island-based hotels while they’re in town.
“Johnny has been coming here for years,” McDonough said. “He flies from his home in Minnesota to Florida then he flies here especially for our show. He’s here strictly on a buying trip.”
And that means more money for the participating dealers and, eventually, the St. Joseph Men’s Guild of the Immaculate Conception Church.
The Cranston Sports Collectors Show is so highly regarded that it is one of only three shows in the country that Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen still attends. Rosen, though retired, was the self-proclaimed “Duke of Dough,” who is one of the most recognizable sports dealers in the country. McDonough says Rosen is rumored to have spent more than $1 million in a year on memorabilia.
“Alan Rosen loves our show because it has become such a New England tradition and our show has always been like those old-time shows, catering specifically to dealers and collectors from all over the country,” McDonough said.
Show organizers do not pay celebrities or athletes to come and sign autographs, which McDonough says set the event apart.
“That type of practice is too expensive. We want our loyal dealers to make money. Our admission fee is only $3. We also sell raffle tickets ... every penny goes to the Men’s Guild and eventually benefits our parish.”
This year’s show will also have a display from the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society and Frank Galasso, a Cranston sports cartoonist, will offer various pieces of his famed works.
In keeping with tradition, the Cranston Sports Collectors Show will be staffed by members of the St. Joseph Men’s Guild. And while they credit McDonough for his extraordinary 36-year run as founder/organizer, members like Walter McGarry and Joe Shekerow enjoy seeing what the show does for young and old alike.
“The thing I like the best about our show is when fathers come with their kids and make it a family affair,” said McGarry, who was decked out in a Mike Roarke St. Louis Cardinals jersey.
Shekerow added, “I like the many stories that have surfaced since we started. One of my all-time favorites is when we brought in a Babe Ruth impersonator ... and he ripped up a contract right in front of everyone’s eyes.”
Still, the most popular draw over the years has been sports cards.
“What’s made it even nicer is when people like Mark van Eeghen [former Oakland Raider Super Bowl champion who ended his career with the Patriots] and even Dennis ‘Oil Can’ Boyd made an appearance – for free – and seemed to have lots of fun,” said Richard Putnam, president of the St. Joseph Men’s Guild.