I think I’m going to make an annual point of descending upon Acton with my fellow collectors, for as long as springtime swap meets are held there. Good times, I say. Spring is a great time of year to have a swap meet, because most of us have been hibernating all winter and we’re raring to go. The way I see it, there’s really no excuse for missing something like that… Unless you're Eric Vettoretti, and you somehow get free box tickets to a Leafs-Senators playoff game scheduled for that same evening back in Ottawa. But really, what are the chances that’s going to happen?
All inside jokes aside, it sure was a fun time. I forgot to bring a copy of the meet listing, but I knew it was at the Acton hockey arena, and I arrived at the designated coordinates bright and early at 7 am. Nobody was there. I made a phone call home and woke my wife up to check and see if I got the date right… it turns out I did, and I was in the right spot, but the doors wouldn’t be opening until 8. My wife, while sympathetic, enjoys making fun of me when I make such errors. I suppose I deserve it for waking her up. An Egg McMuffin later, I drove back to the arena and was glad to find the organizers of our meet, Dave Steckley, Paul Cafarella and Manny Jacob. Hands were shaken and crates lifted through the door, which had since been opened by the custodian.
I set to work assembling my display, entitled “Oddball Stuff.” It contained about twenty rare Ontario plate types that are the heart and soul of my collection. I used a leftover four-foot-square piece of PlasTex, a plastic sheet material that is designed to be used as durable wall paneling, but also makes for an excellent display backboard, as long as it is supported from behind by a wooden frame. The panel is flexible, and rolls up such that it fits perfectly in the back seat of my compact hatchback. I’m actually making a bigger display for the big ALPCA convention in Providence, so Acton was somewhat of a test. The plastic warps more than I expected, so I’ll have to reinforce the rear skeletal frame of my big display. Once my display was ready, I set up my trade table. Already, people were lined up at the door. Within a few minutes of placing my traders on my table, I had made my first three sales. For me, it never rains, but it pours (and I don’t just mean the weather outside that day). I carry a very small trade stock, which rarely garners any attention. Most of the time, I spend far more money than I make, but this time, I had made $33 in the first half hour alone.
I tried to make the rounds and rummage through trade boxes, but I spent most of my time chatting with old friends whom I rarely see. I was taking to Gary Edwards when I found, in his trade box, the mate to the 1991 Ontario plate in my passenger run. He insisted I take it for free!
Talking to Jim Becksted is always a pleasure, especially because he calls me Sir Jon (has to do with me schmoozing with the Queen, but that’s another story). Both Jim and Manny brought cool displays full of tough-to-find Ontario types, including prototypes and error plates. I once offered a Royal Motorcade plate to Jim in exchange for one of his beloved invert errors, but he couldn’t be turned. Manny brought some tough buses and PRP plates, as well as a head-of-mission diplomat plate that I’d love to have.
"#Sam" Samis brought a mint, unused 1944 windshield sticker that garnered many oohs and aaahs. The show-and-tell aspect of Acton is always lots of fun.
Just then, I heard a sound that I recognized. I expected to hear this sound at some point, and sure enough, I was now hearing it loud and clear. It was the sound of a certain individual arguing that he shouldn’t have to pay the admission fee, and then grudgingly putting his $5 on the table with an unmistakable Kerplunk. He made the rounds as before, scanning over the tables and gleaning advantages by eavesdropping on conversations. I had not expected him to even bother talking to me, since I’m not worth talking to, because I’m small-time and have no real connections. But to my surprise, he closely examined something from my table. I had brought a 1968 Ontario Pesticides plate, not so much because I wanted to sell it, but because I wanted to see if it could catalyze any interesting trades-- it’s not worth a mint, but it is nevertheless a rare item. Apparently, the unnamed individual had taken interest, and so it began. “This yours?” he asked. “How much do you want for it?” “I’m not looking to sell it; I’m more interested in trade offers.” True enough. “What are you looking for?” he asked. A trick question really, since his tactic is to demand specific information from you, while selfishly attempting to remain as vague as possible. “I’m looking for other uncommon types of Ontario plates that might spark my interest,” I answered. “What specific plates are you looking for? What years, what types?” He asked these questions very quickly, as though trying to rile me up like an auctioneer. I recognized his approach, though, and I was determined not to let it work.
I turned it against him by asking a question of my own: “Where are your traders? Do you have a table?” “I don’t have a table,” he replied. Just like last year. I already figured that. He shrugged and gave me some vague muttering that led me to believe that he might have some interesting stuff locked safely in his car. He resumed his primary tactic of asking my interests. “What are you looking for?” It seemed that he was waiting for me to undervalue the plate by biting into his baited questions without thinking. “I would need to see what you have. Plates are a visual thing, and I can’t negotiate a trade sight unseen. I would need to see what you’ve brought.” He became annoyed with me. “Why don’t you just answer the question?” “I have answered,” was my reply. He put the plate down and walked off in a huff. Not once had he made eye contact with me during the entire exchange. It’ll be a cold day in hell before he lets anyone see what he has. I don’t trust him… why won’t he allow people to see anything? Needless to say, I watched my table carefully for the remainder of the time he was in the hall… about 15 minutes.
I did manage to swing a trade later on, with Paul, sort of a peanuts-for-peanuts deal. That was the extent of my finds for the day. The meet was wearing on, and I had spent so much time chatting that a few people had packed up and left before I had a chance to look through their stuff! I had $150 in my pocket… imagine the missed sales. Luckily, I had been chatting fairly close to my own table and hadn’t missed any of my own sales. I made about $60 by the time I began packing up myself… Pretty good, when you consider the size of my paltry trade stock.
I love the Acton meet. It’s a great time of year, and the central location is attractive to most collectors in Ontario. Still, after chatting further with our organizers, I learned that attendance was not only down, but the meet posted a monetary loss-- It cost more to produce than it took in through admission. The loss was modest, but still, it’s a discouraging sign. It got me thinking as to how attendance could be boosted next year. Here are my suggestions:
1. Hold the meet on a Saturday. Maybe it won’t work, but at least try it. In 2003, the majority of those polled checked off “Sunday” as their day of choice, but I’m convinced that they simply liked the meet and had the “wouldn’t-change-a-thing, let’s-do-it-next-year” mentality. Most folks who show up live within spitting distance of Toronto and they could make it easily on Saturday. Others like myself, who live 6-8 hours away, might have an easier time attending on Saturday (Contrast that with Sunday, when we need to drive like hell to get home for work the next day. It’s easier to leave Friday after work and wake up Saturday within a short drive of the meet).
2. Advertise locally. Apparently, one random guy blew $70 just because he walked by our meet on his way to a lacrosse game in the arena. He had no idea we would be there. Put ads in Old Autos, antique newspapers, or even staple posters to phone poles in Acton. Bring ‘em in.
3. Expand the scope to include other related automobilia, like road signs, DAV tags, or heck, even transit memorabilia (I had an Ottawa city bus rollsign for sale at my table, for instance).
4. Rely more heavily on a website to advertise the meet. Send out e-mail reminders to Ontario collectors and direct them to the website. Post pictures of past displays; make it as interesting to look at as possible.
5. Contact collectors who did not show up, and ask them why they didn’t go. What would it have taken to guarantee their attendance? The feedback could provide some clues to improve attendance for next year.
6. All attendees should bring some plates to trade. We had a few more empty tables than we would have liked. Shell out the five bucks and rent a table. Put your traders out! We can’t have a plate meet without plates.
See you next year at the third annual Acton meet!