It may be daunting for some people to walk into a sports memorabilia store with the hope of finding a suitable gift for their loved one or relative. On the outside looking in, it’s easy to imagine someone arbitrarily slapping price tags on random paraphernalia just waiting for some gullible consumer to fork over their money, but there is a definite science to the art of collecting. Lance and June Gonzales, the new owners of the Sports Dugout located at 103 E. Branch Street in the Village of Arroyo Grande, know the trade, know how to trade and can help anyone find that special gift.
The Gonzales’ used to own Lance Gonzales Landscaping, a successful business in Los Angeles that catered to such Hollywood stars as the late John Candy, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg. In Lance’s years of experience working with greenery of Hollywood royalty, Harrison Ford is one of the celebrities that stands out as a truly nice individual. Despite his success, Lance always wanted something else.
“I did landscaping for 30 years,” said Lance. “I was a landscape contractor out of LA and I always wanted to have a store. I’ve been a collector forever, and I know a lot about the industry.”
In the past, the couple had searched for potential places to open up shop on the Central Coast. “We love the little, small town. We’ve been up here a couple of times,” said Lance. “We like it. It’s the slow pace, it’s completely different than what we’re used.”
After 7 years of researching SLO county and potential businesses, they took the plunge and purchased the old memorabilia store in the Village. They revamped the inside and put up a flat screen TV.
When it comes to putting value on a piece, whether is a team coffee mug or autographed picture, sentiment and rarity are the two sides of same the collectable coin. Rarity is easy to spot for Lance. He can tell you that anything signed by famous sports announcer Vin Scully is valuable, because “Scully doesn’t sign anything” or an old photo with Dodger Stadium in the backdrop is unique, because “those bleachers are different colors now.”
To purchase something with sentimental value is a more difficult task; it could be an old brochure from the first live game someone watched or a signed jersey of a favorite player. Knowledge of the recipient is the most valuable commodity when looking for sentimental value.
Lance hand picks his memorabilia. “I look for uniqueness, quality and personal preference,” he said. When asked what his favorite team was Lance said “all of them, I love the game.”
“One of the things we really wanted to do was to give a chance to a small community to see different things through sports memorabilia.” June added, “When people walk in here, I love hearing them say, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Finding the right gift does not have to empty your wallet. Dawn and Gerald Hollis from Camarillo stopped in the store to buy something for their son. “They have things here that I’d never seen,” Dawn said referring to the wooden team totem and a team license plate holder. “I thought it was a nice story and they were very helpful.” Among the numerous lower price ranged items on display, the Hollis’ picked a license plate holder and a team beanie.
Lance’s real passion may not be collecting, but rather sharing his love of the game. “One of the things I wanted to teach my whole life, (is that) it’s just not about the player and the team, it’s about the game.” Given half the chance, he will gladly walk anyone through the Dugout and explain the history and significance of the player, team or event that any particular collectable represents.
Story and photos by Mark A. Diaz