NEWINGTON - John Kelleher has the dream job of many, peddling away treasures he‚Äôs spent a lifetime collecting.
The East Hartford resident recently opened M&J Video Games & Sports Collectibles at 3277 Berlin Turnpike. It‚Äôs his family‚Äôs second store in Connecticut, with the first location on Queen Street in Southington. Kelleher had a store in Wallingford, but closed after a brief stint and moved to a plaza on Route 15 in Newington late in the fall.
‚ÄúWallingford customers would call me and say, ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs no place to park, I‚Äôll come back another time,‚Äô‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúI thought, ‚ÄėWhat better place than the turnpike? Thousands of cars come by here every day and we have more than enough parking.‚ÄĚ
On a recent Saturday, staff unveiled their new sign at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Sunday, Babe Ruth‚Äôs granddaughter, Linda Ruth Tosetti, joined the party.
It‚Äôs Kelleher‚Äôs personal experience in the sports entertainment industry that brings big names into his two stores. He worked as Rocky the Rock Cat for 11 years for the former New Britain Rock Cats baseball team.
That‚Äôs also how he came across some of the rarer items on his shelves, like a 3-foot-tall Babe Ruth bobblehead doll.
‚ÄúOnly 100 of these were made,‚ÄĚ Kelleher said proudly, placing a Santa Claus hat on the figure‚Äôs head.
Each piece comes along with a story. Maybe where it originated, how it was discovered or who he bought it from.
The Newington store features hundreds of sports memorabilia, much of it signed by major league baseball players, pro wrestlers, hockey legends, football greats and basketball champs.
Video game systems, games and other equipment take an equal share in the collection. But not the latest and greatest. Think more vintage.
‚ÄúWe have two warehouses filled with stuff,‚ÄĚ Kelleher says. ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs unique about my store is that it doesn‚Äôt just cover one type of collectible. Our motto is, if you want it, we‚Äôll get it for you.‚ÄĚ
This kind of passion for treasure hunting is not learned in school. Kelleher grew up on the flea market and swap meet circuit, hanging on the coattails of a precious-metals dealer.
‚ÄúI was maybe 8 or 9 years old and my dad would take me to all these shows,‚ÄĚ he recalled. ‚ÄúHe sold gold and silver. When he‚Äôd buy big lots out there would be tons of extra junk, so he‚Äôd have me sell it for him. By the late ‚Äô80s, I was 18 and I was making three hundred bucks every weekend.‚ÄĚ
Nowadays, gaming aficionados and sports fans come into the store and find a friend in Kelleher. They chat up the afternoon and on their way out, are astounded to discover the missing piece in their collection.
For him, it‚Äôs these moments that make the daily organizing and hunting worth every hassle and haggle.
‚ÄúWhen you help them out you feel good,‚ÄĚ Kelleher says. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs what we‚Äôre here for.‚ÄĚ
The store‚Äôs regular hours are Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.