area promoter talks about his views on trading card and entertainment
2003 Midwest Non-Sport Card Expo was the largest independently
promoted event the Chicago vicinity had seen in over a decade.
Trading cards did not dominate booth space at the show, as there had
been a wide variety of memorabilia to satisfy any generalist.
host Paul Maiellaro may not be considered a unique
innovator, but he is not reticent toward tinkering and tweaking with the
convention format. A few promoters of the past merely selected a
venue, collected table fees and opened their doors. They no longer
participate in the industry. Maiellaro exhibits a refreshing
earnestness toward the hobby clientele as has been demonstrated over the
previous two Septembers.
influx of entertainment collectibles Maiellaro incorporated last year
prompted a name change for his show. The Chicagoland
Entertainment Collector's Expo will also debut in a new location
close by the city's O'Hare Airport and main superhighways.
may access the CECE's
Web site for detailed information on the upcoming event.
Would you reveal some of your personal background and your earliest
Currently I work for an industrial auto transmission company. I
grew up near downtown Chicago on the Near North side.
first love was Silver Age Marvel and mainstream superheroes like
Spiderman. In 1975, I went to my first convention. It was
held at the YMCA on South Wabash, one of the early pioneer shows.
My brother took me to it. Back then, dealers had file copies of
comics, which were books that are seemingly unread, just put away and
untouched. I bought a run of Iron Man and picked up issues
2 through 13. They were 50 to 75 cents a copy. In most
cases, the covers hadn't even been cracked open. Now, those issues
in file copy condition would bring several hundred dollars with CGC
unfortunately, as the years went on, my priorities changed,
although I had amassed a nice collection. Later on, they were all
stolen. I lost between 10 to 15 thousand books. That soured
me for a few years, but I came to realize I really enjoyed collecting
and wanted to start all over. Right now, I'm almost done with the
entire Iron Man series from 1961 to 1980. Unfortunately,
some are key books that are worth several thousand dollars.
What is your first youthful recollection of non-sport cards?
Wacky Packages, that's the most dominant in my mind. There are
other things like Topps' Marvel Super Heroes Stickers from the
mid 1970s were fun. I was as guilty as anyone pulling the stickers
off their backing. They're probably still on some light pole in
You mentioned that you eventually got back into the comics as a
hobbyist. To what extend was your involvement and did you dabble
in other memorabilia?
All throughout the late 1980s forward I was a dealer in comics, toys and
movie posters, both selling and buying. My business was mainly
through shows in the area. I've always liked the hands-on approach --
people see immediately what they're getting. Mail order's very
of what I bought for myself didn't come from the established media, like
Comic Buyers Guide; I went to area comic shops. One was
Larry's Comic Book Store on Chicago's North Side near Loyola
When was your first attempt at show promoting?
I started doing small shows in the late '80s. I wanted to make
some money, but I also wanted to have a good time doing it. Back
then, comics were on top of the world in terms of popularity. I
knew some people in the industry, so I put on small shows and things
were hot. It was a little like the stock market at the time,
although it's still a bit similar today.
generally had about 30 dealers and roughly 50 to 60 tables. They
were taken mostly by comic dealers, although a few dealt in toys and
The trading card and comics industries experienced a downturn in the lat
1990s. How did that affect your efforts?
Business was still decent in comics. As far as cards go, I
started putting on shows again in '98. But then things started to
slump and after Sept. 11 it died. It took people a good six to
eight months to get their heads back together and move on.
Collecting can be a lucrative hobby, but, of course, it is not a
Your first multi-day trading card show took place in May 2001 in south
suburban Chicago. Les Davis, editor of The
Wrapper, observed that the show had been "sparsely
attended," due, no doubt, to rise of easy Internet auctions.
What were some of your goals?
We just made a decision to expand. I felt it was time for
hobbyists to pick themselves out of a rut. Any hobby is an escape
from the stress of the day-to-day world.
thought that instead of running small, one-day shows, we could fine tune
and do non-sports with no guests and strictly cards. But a lot of
customers want to see manufacturers at the shows and they want
celebrities and artists. Big shows like Wizard World San Diego
prove the point entirely.
How do you view your situation today?
We're slowly growing. At this point, we had gone from a tiny
show of 30 dealers to this year having 110 tables including celebrity
guests, artists and manufacturers. The manufacturers are starting
to see the value in our efforts.
also in a very good position geographically. Last year we had
several people that I know of from Canada visiting just for our
show. Talking strictly of customers, we had people from almost
every state -- actually from about 40 states. This year, so far,
from what I've seen in pre-sale tickets, we have three people coming
from England and one from Germany. I'm so proud that it means the
networking, the advertising and word of mouth is working. I'm not
asking for an overnight success, but I'm hoping that with the support of
the customers, dealers and manufacturers will carry us through this year
with a gradual increase every year.
What problems did you encounter with your expansion plans?
It was difficult at first to get guests and manufacturers interested
in a show that was coming from out of nowhere. It was a hard wall
to break through because of the skepticism. You have to have
someone who believes in you and the show's potential because I don't
have a lot of money to spend. I wouldn't consider it a competition
between myself and Wizard World because there's no way I could match
their funding and programming. Last year we had question and
answer sessions in a kind of seat-of-your-pants scheduling. This
year everything's pre-scheduled in the program book and on our Web site.
You mentioned that the Chicago area is advantageous for luring
out-of-towners. What other strengths can you identify?
One of the things I'm finding out is people like the idea of having
a show close to O'Hare Field. And it doesn't hurt that the hotel
has free shuttle service to and from the airport. You take into
consideration comments from customers and dealers about location.
The hard part was finding a location that was affordable. You're
always walking a fine line trying to keep the admission price and table
rates down as much as possible. But I still have to be profitable
to a certain degree.
at it this way: The customer has a family and other
responsibilities. I still want them to come out, but I don't want
it to be just another convention. I want them to consider it a
mini-vacation, a time to talk to others, buy a few things, trade, meet a
few celebrities, get an autograph or two. More importantly, when
they go home, I want them to talk about the show and say, "I really
enjoyed myself and can't wait for next year."
What additions to this year's show would generate the positive
word-of-mouth effect you are seeking?
Two things. We've added a Star Wars breakfast for
Saturday morning from eight to 9:30. For a $15 ticket you can have
breakfast with the eight Star Wars actors appearing at our
show. (The Star Wars guests are Tim Dry, Sean Crawford,
Gerald Home, Jeremy Bulloch, Christine Hewett, Steve Speirs, Felix Silla
and Dalyn Chew) During that time, a raffle will be
held. Federation Toys has donated an action figure of each actor,
who have agreed to sign their respective figures for the raffle.
Attendees can purchase additional raffle tickets for three dollars.
the money from the breakfast proceeds go to the Treasure Chest
Foundation. This was founded by a woman whose seven-year-old son
was a cancer victim. He beat it and is now 17. The charity
helps out 19 area hospitals.
also hold a charity auction benefiting Treasure Chest Saturday afternoon
at one o'clock. We have mostly autographed photos from actors like
an eight-by-ten glossy signed by Carrie Fisher. There are other
things such as an Anthony Daniels signed Hallmark ornament, original
printing plates from comic books and some uncut sheets from Topps' Widevision
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Wrapper publisher Les Davis
Inkworks president Allan Caplan