Don Spagnolo has been a kind of matchmaker for the last two decades.
As the owner of Remixxd of Steel City Galleries, he connected a wide variety of collectibles with avid collectors around the world. His Belle Vernon warehouse has a variety of items – from sports memorabilia to metal lunch boxes – but how he started his journey is an unusual story.
When Spagnolo was a child in the 1980s, baseball was his life. He spent summer days playing Wiffle ball, saw little league, and loved watching the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Like many other children, Spagnolo had quite a few baseball cards.
“I started collecting at the age of 7 in 1985, and there was a huge increase in popularity until shortly in the late ’80s / early’ 90s,” he said. “Card shops appeared everywhere.”
Unlike many other children, Spagnolo had an early manager for the business. He said he studied Beckett award guides that law students would study for their law degree.
He also came from three generations of grocery stores, including the Giant Eagle in Belle Vernon, which his father owned.
In 1991, the grocery store was rebuilt, which included glass display windows in the movie rental section. Fourteen at the time, Spagnolo asked his father if they could use these storefronts to sell baseball cards because the baseball card industry was booming at the time.
“Unfortunately, my father did not originally see it that way,” said the Monessen resident, “but he came around.”
And then he started selling the cards from his father’s shop while still a student at Geibel Catholic High School in Connellsville.
He continued to pursue baseball card sales while studying business and entrepreneurship at Washington & Jefferson College, and once took his class on an excursion to the Giant Eagle to see his own business. Spagnolo also ran a satellite office out of the dormitory.
In 1997, as the Internet began to flourish, he scanned and sold baseball cards on eBay, receiving piles of checks and cash payments from around the world.
After graduating in 1999, the video department was taken out of the store and turned into a sports store for sports equipment. That venture lasted for two years, and ended when his father sold the store back to Giant Eagle’s corporate office.
In 2001, Spagnolo incorporated Steel City Galleries, and began selling the cards from home. Then he said the cards were not as hot an item as they once were, so he started selling autographs and worked on James Spence Authentication, which he still does, to make sure they were genuine.
A decade later, he was contacted by Amazon to be a supplier.
“It was a big boost for us,” he said, adding that he also decided to include vintage pop culture items in his business to help it grow – and grow it did.
Spagnolo moved into his first office at a business incubator in Monessen in 2009, then moved to a former district court office in Belle Vernon in 2014. A few months ago, his newest location opened at the Amcel Center Properties in Belle Vernon.
Spagnolo now has over 5,000 square meters of office space for his virtual warehouse with space to expand in a location less than a mile away where he started his business in his father’s former Giant Eagle store.
He said it took a month and 15 full-size U-Haul trucks to move everything to the new location.
“There has already been a huge reception of people,” said Spagnolo, adding that the reception was mostly online, as the place is not a traditional shop with foot traffic. “We have almost 100,000 items that we sell over Ebay, Amazon, Fanatics, a few smaller sites and our own site.”
Baseball cards and autographs are still among the things he sells, but his offerings now include new and vintage toys, magazines, comics, sports memorabilia, board games and lunch boxes.
“There are probably things here that sit in an attic all year, and someone is looking for just that thing,” he said. “We’re like a matchmaker that way,” he said.
The customers who come into the business are those who have things they no longer want, but who want to sell. He has also occasionally called houses to check what someone has to offer.
Recently, Spagnolo said they had brought in a customer with 12 garages full of things he no longer wanted, including 1,500 Hot Wheels toys that were still in the original packages. Another person wanted to get rid of stored car sales books for the past 60 years.
When it comes to selling goods someone may not know much about, Spagnolo said he has a guide that describes what to look for on the company’s website, but he added that the seller’s mindset of going in should also be considered.
“You should get your expectations at the right level in advance,” he said, adding that stories of someone holding an old $ 1 million baseball card in the attic are extremely rare. “Not everything will be a $ 1 million item.”
However, there is no reason to be discouraged.
Spagnolo made a living by paying people for things they would throw away without knowing the value.
He said the business has had its share of surprises about what people want to buy – everything from VHS tapes and beer tap handles to old “TV guides” and vintage commercials.
And that, he said, is why the business has lasted so long. When it comes to selling collectibles, a company needs to get out of the comfort zone and reinvent itself as an interest in such items and the method by which the goods are bought and sold is constantly evolving.
This evolution is one of the reasons why he changed the name of the company to Remixxd by Steel City Galleries as his business reached the 20-year mark, and the products he offers continue to expand.
“A remix is when an old song becomes relevant again, and I think we do it in many ways,” said Spagnolo.