Morton Grove card shop caters to sports collectors
AU Sports co-owner Frank Caputo holds baseball cards of Ernie Banks, Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
6006 W. Dempster St.
Updated: March 1, 2013 7:03AM
MORTON GROVE — Like many boys, Scott Beatty and Frank Caputo collected sports cards when they were kids.
Now, in middle age, they have found a way to turn the hobby of their youth into an adult career.
Beatty and Caputo are owners of AU Sports, a sports memorabilia store that’s been around more than 30 years, first in Skokie, then Niles and now in Morton Grove.
“It beats working,” Beatty said as he stood in front of a wall containing stacks of long boxes holding millions of sports cards. “I’ve had real jobs. This beats it any day.”
“You get to be around something you love,” Caputo added.
According to a Sun-Times obituary of the previous owner, Steve Gold, the store was originally opened on Dempster Street near McCormick Boulevard in 1980 by Sun-Times sportswriter Eddie Gold and his wife to give their son Steve a place to sell his huge collection of baseball cards. Steve took over officially in 1990.
The name of the store is a play on the family name — Au is the symbol for gold on the Periodic Table of the Elements.
Both Caputo and Beatty worked in the store while in college. “We worked for Steve at different times,” Beatty said.
“I think I replaced you,” Caputo said to Beatty.
For a long time they held “real” jobs.
Beatty operated concessions on the Evanston lakefront and Caputo worked in a medical company’s collections department.
Beatty began helping Gold with Internet sales in about 2000. When Gold died in 2010, they decided to buy the business from his family.
“AU Sports is in our blood, no question about it,” Beatty said.
The Morton Grove store, on Dempster just west of Austin, is in a space occupied for many years by Magazine Memories.
Anyone who had been in that shop, crowded wall-to-wall with racks of old magazines, would not recognize the look of AU Sports. Beatty said the store was completely gutted and remodeled.
It now has a large open space. Two long walls are packed with case after case of sports cards. The largest percentage are from baseball, though the store also stocks cards from hockey, basketball, football and other sports.
There is a section of wall displaying autographed jerseys and another large display of trophy-mounted baseballs. The store also carries other kinds of collectables, from bobbleheads to autographed footballs and basketballs.
There are also a few quirkier items, like a sort of cardboard face mask of Harry Caray that Beatty said was given away at Caray’s restaurant after his death.
A display case holds a new Peanuts lunch box, made collectable because it was given away at Wrigley Field and carries a Cubs logo.
Beatty said AU Sports carries about 5 million sports cards, many of them vintage stuff from the 50s and 60s.
Most cards have been bought from sellers who come in with their own collections looking to sell what they can.
That’s part of what makes the job exciting, Beatty and Caputo said. They never know when someone will show up with a really special card.
“People walk in with boxes and ask if you want to buy it,” Beatty said. “Sometimes the answer is yes. Most of the time it’s no.”
Caputo said cards of Baseball Hall of Fame players are usually popular, players like Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and Hank Aaron. Players who are currently hot also have popular cards, he said.
The store carries new cards when they come out, and collectible cards with values anywhere from a nickel to about $20,000.
Beatty said the keys are the age and condition of the card. Creases, bent corners, fading, or any similar defect will lower the value.
Customers often come in or contact them through their Facebook page or eBay site looking for s specific cards, and most often they can fill the request.
“Maybe two out of 10 (customers) get disappointed,” Beatty said. “When we don’t have it doesn’t mean we won’t get it. You never know who’s going to walk in the door.”
Beatty and Caputo also have favorite cards. Caputo said he enjoys old hockey players. For Beatty, a favorite is a 1952 Topps Gus Zernial card.
It carries a photo of Zernial making the “OK” sign with his left hand. In his right hand he is holding up a bat with a half-dozen baseballs apparently and weirdly glued to it.
“It’s goofy. It’s just an absurd card,” Beatty said. “It’s just ridiculously absurd.”
In addition to the Morton Grove store, AU Sports sells through the web site Beckett Media at beckett.com, through its Facebook page and through eBay.