Longtime patrons of the Baseball Card Shop on West Bay Drive have rallied to help Orve Johansson , the owner of the 27-year-old sports memorabilia shop.Johansson, 63, had both kidneys removed in March and to help offset medical expenses, fellow collectors have stepped up to the plate by creating an online fundraiser.
Through 9 p.m. May 28, sports fans can place bids on such items as a baseball signed by the 1934 Yankees featuring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, a group photograph signed by Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin and a Ted Williams signed post card.
“The collecting community is doing this for Orve because he always puts everyone else first,” said Brad Wells, chief executive officer of Historic Auctions, who has worked with Johansson for about five years during different consignment projects.
“He treats everyone surrounding him like family,” Wells said.
For Johansson, the attention since he became ill is something he never expected.
“I don’t like being in the limelight, but I appreciate everything,” he said by phone from Bay Pines VA Medical Center before a dialysis appointment. Although he is now recuperating at home in Largo, Johansson goes to the hospital several times a week for dialysis.
A former Internal Revenue Service employee, Johansson and his wife, Maria, opened the Baseball Card Shop after they moved from Chicago in 1982. They started the business with Johansson’s own collection of 1,000 cards. In the beginning, they followed a budget in which they had to earn $21 a day to succeed.
While he is sick, several friends have helped his wife keep open the business, which has grown to include a large number of baseball cards kept in the adjoining store.
“Frankly, I’m not well-versed on the players anymore, and I just want to say how thankful I am to have such good friends we’ve met through the years to help out now,” said Maria Johansson, 58. “I think the reason we’ve been able to keep the business open this long has to do with Orve’s personality.
“So many people come in just because they want to talk with him, and unfortunately, he’s not there right now.” But her husband is eager to be back at work soon.
“All I want to do is be in the store,” he said. “I miss my daily work, and what I’d really like to be talking about are the Rays. They seem to be one key hit per game short. Last year, they seemed to always have that key hit and this year, they don’t.”
Piper Castillo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.