|Hall of Fame Sports Books and Collectibles was a destination for sports fans from all over the country. From 1991 to 1996 owners Chris Egan and Lorri Hopping sold new and used books, magazines, and memorabilia to casual browsers to serious collectors alike. The store occupied the first floor of 311 S. Fifth Ave. (currently Earthen Jar restaurant, next to the Downtown Library parking lot). Hall of Fame was part of the Ann Arbor Independent Booksellers Alliance that formed in the mid-1990s. A2Books board member Karen Alvarez interviewed Lorri about their experiences.|
How did you come to open a bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor?
In 1991 we were newlyweds living in New York City. Chris worked as a sports news copy editor and I worked in publishing. Chris was laid off from his job about the same time that I landed my dream job as a game designer at Aristoplay [the Ann Arbor-based board game company]. So, we moved to Ann Arbor. I grew up in Northville and was already familiar with this area. Both of us grew up loving books and bookstores. Chris is from a book family and is also an avid sports memorabilia collector. I have fond memories of my mother taking me to Borders back when it was a small independent bookstore, and I worked at B. Dalton as a teenager. I even interviewed Ann Arbor booksellers as part of my senior project as a journalism major at Kalamazoo College. Chris applied to newspaper jobs when we first moved to Ann Arbor, and even worked as a temp at what was then the Little Professor bookstore (now Nicola’s Books). Then we took a leap and decided to open a bookstore. He took an intensive four-day bookselling class in Chicago given by the American Booksellers Association. Coincidentally, in that class he met the couple who would open the children’s bookstore Charlotte’s Corner in southeast Ann Arbor.
How did you choose the store’s location and source all of your inventory?
We wanted a location downtown in order to get foot traffic and we liked that there were wonderful bookstores nearby: Aunt Agatha’s and Common Language on 4th Ave. It felt like being part of a mini bookstore row. We knew owning a bookstore would be a challenge. We scraped together savings and got some help from family. The books mostly came from wholesalers. Collectibles and rare items, which were really the bread and butter of the store, came from many hours of Chris searching estate sales and similar avenues. We also launched a direct mail catalog, which made money from the rarer and more expensive items. We didn’t have any employees so it was a grueling schedule. Chris worked practically non-stop. He made friends with a lot of sports fans who became steady customers. I worked at the store on Sundays, my one day off from working full time at Aristoplay and as a freelance writer/editor. Though the hours were long, we kept overhead low and worked really hard to grow the business. We produced a free walking/bike map of downtown for visitors, tourists, townies, and students to investigate all the specialty stores. Ann Arbor was and is most definitely a BOOK TOWN, and I’m not sure how many people really know that outside the area.
What were some rare or unusual items that you sold?
Trading cards, first editions of sports biographies, signed books, memorabilia, and the like. One section of the store had a wall full of Sports Illustrated issues dating back to the 1950s, including first editions. One of our most memorable customers was a man from Los Angeles who had seen our catalogue. He spent hours in the store looking through the Sports Illustrated on display and many more stored in boxes, knowing exactly what he was looking for. He spent hundreds of dollars that day, and intended to send the issues as gifts to friends who lived all around the country. Another customer drove several hours from Canada to visit on a Monday, but hadn’t checked our hours ahead of time. Unfortunately, Monday was the only day of the week that we were closed. There often was a chance of finding Chris at the store on Mondays doing inventory, but not on that particular day. We felt awful the next morning when we checked voicemail and heard a message from him. He was disappointed but good natured and continued to be a loyal mail order customer. As the internet and e-commerce exploded, in the mid-90s, we realized we’d have to establish an online presence and that the brick/mortar model wasn’t likely to be sustainable in the long run. So, we regretfully closed the store when, fortuitously, Chris landed a full-time job at the Ann Arbor News as a sports copy editor.
Do you miss anything about running a bookstore?
Connecting with customers, whether they were new to the genre or regulars who stopped by to jaw sports. And part of the appeal to customers was that Chris loved to talk sports and collecting. Our motto, “Where Everybody Knows Your Game,” was inspired by the theme from the show Cheers, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.” We also enjoyed networking at trading card and antiquarian shows and the like. Some favorite memories include a visit from veteran sports journalist Joe Falls, the 1994 World Cup match in Detroit that drew international visitors, and the busy days of Art Fair. The funniest moment? There was one day when we were puzzled by the high number of customers, much more than the usual foot traffic. Everyone who came in was in a great mood and found something in the store to their liking even if they weren’t sports fans. It was our best sales day yet. At the end of the day we looked at each other, bewildered. Then it dawned on us that it was Hash Bash! Part of what made owning a store interesting is that we never knew who we might meet; every day was a little different.
**Photos courtesy of Lorri Hopping, ad courtesy of AADL Community Collections**
Featured in May 2022 newsletter