On Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, Calif., a street that offers one of the nation's wider selections of smutty movies and magazines, there is a seedy little book shop that appears to have gone out of business during the Depression and never reopened. The door is always locked, and things inside remain as still as the statuettes of the athletes that decorate the front window. "Adco Sports Book Exchange," says the faded sign, giving no hint of the treasures within.
This musty haven amid the neighborhood fleshpots is the biggest purveyor of sport nostalgia in the world, and the proprietor, Goodwin Goldfaden, claims to have "a million items" stored away inside and in six storerooms nearby, invaluable bits of memorabilia and minutiae, including every copy of The Ring magazine from 1922 to date, the Spalding, Barnes and NCAA football guides from the days of Albie Booth and before, the personal scrapbook of "the only woman scout in major league baseball history" and copies of the Police Gazette back to the 1880s. All of it, Goldfaden says, is for sale—in pieces or in a lump.
Few people visit Adco, and neighborhood shopkeepers feel sorry for him over the obvious dearth of foot-traffic business he does. They should save their sympathy. Goldfaden receives an average of 50 letters a day from sports fans who want to buy, sell or trade such items as baseball guides or old Sewanee football programs. Frankie Frisch once ordered 28 baseball publications going back to 1931. A Parisian saw an ad in an L.A. classified phone book, and within five years bought more than $2,000 worth of items on track and field, tennis and the Olympics. A customer in New York City was so anxious to get the complete 1948-through-1968 run of The Sporting News that he had it shipped air freight.
Goldfaden has been in the business for 46 years, since he was an 11-year-old baseball fanatic in Cleveland, and he has made many friends through the mails. A favored old customer who has what Goldfaden calls "one of the largest baseball collections in existence" told him he will inherit the whole thing when the customer passes on. Even the shipping costs will be paid by the estate, he promises.
Scarcely a week goes by without Adco's buying somebody's collection of something. Goldfaden has several complete sets of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: he even has several copies of SI's dummy issues, the prepublication editions put out to show potential advertisers what the product would look like.
Customers drop in occasionally to shop in person (they have to ring the doorbell, then extinguish all smoking materials), but most often they phone (area code 213, 876-2393 or 986-4914). James Earl Jones, who portrayed a character based on heavyweight champ Jack Johnson in The Great While Hope, called up and bought two scrapbooks made up by Johnson's handler; one of them weighed 50 pounds. Olympic decathlon champion Bob Mathias bought a dozen copies of his own book.
Goldfaden doesn't restrict himself to books, programs and periodicals. He also deals in decals, menus, ashtrays, puzzles, posters, matchbook covers, calendars, ticket stubs and even sports-motif labels originally designed for fruit crates. He keeps bubble-gum cards in cigar boxes so kids can come in and rummage around (an adult customer recently bought 40,000 baseball and football cards). Goldfaden can tell at a glance who manufactured a given baseball card, the year it was issued and the most valuable numbers in the set. A Babe Ruth original from the '30s costs $5; a 1959 reprint goes for $1. Bubble gum is a relative latecomer to the field. Goldfaden has cards from the early 1900s that came with long-forgotten cigarette brands: Polar Bear, Old Judge, Old Mill, Cycle, American Beauty, Hassan, Sovereign, Piedmont.
One of Adco's rarest items is a 1910 baseball novel. Won in the Ninth by Christy Mathewson, autographed by the famous New York Giants' pitcher and containing a nonfiction chapter, "The Fade-Away and Other Deceptive Curves." Adco also had on sale recently an 1889 Brooklyn baseball scorecard, a 1904 boxed baseball game ($50, marked up from its original price of 50 cents), a military document signed by Abner Doubleday, a 1902 Davis Cup program, and New York Yankee paychecks endorsed by Tony Lazzeri, Waite Hoyt, Miller Huggins and Herb Pennock. Upstairs in the cluttered Adco mezzanine is a box full of memorabilia Goldfaden says is worth about $5,000, including a John L. Sullivan fight poster and a program from the 1921 Dempsey-Carpentier fight.
Can such a business, even with "the world's largest inventory," be profitable?
"I've been married for 30 years and this has carried us," said Goldfaden. His wife Esther is an active participant in the business, and they recently bought a new home in Sherman Oaks. "But we've worked hard, and the business is running away from me." Would he sell out? "It's available to interested parties at the right price—around $100,000." Anyone with that kind of capital and an eye for a business that can never run out of raw materials can write Box 48577, Briggs Station, Los Angeles 90048, phone or drop in at 7402 Santa Monica Boulevard. Call first.