By Marty Zajac
The annual JP’s Sports/Rock Solid Promotion’s (JPRS) Winter Extravaganza show at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y., was held Jan. 16-18. Some readers might recall my earlier reports about JPRS shows printed here in past issues, and while my past articles covering them have largely reported on some of the sights, sounds and, most importantly for collectors, their autograph lineups, an interesting event occurred at this particular show that’s worth sharing.
Co-promoters James Ryan and Brian Coppola have always been dedicated to providing the collector with an all-around great event, but they both acknowledge they couldn’t have done it without the strength and courtesy of their faithful dealer base. The two promoters have always been keenly aware of this and decided to take time out of their busy schedules to honor one of their longtime vendors.
“It’s a shame that all the hard work that dealers do to find new inventory, come up with creative pricing and marketing and all of their long hours of traveling and work often goes unnoticed,” Coppola said. “It’s not like a casual customer comes and thanks a dealer for getting up at 4 a.m. to get to the show that day. The job of a sports card dealer could at times be a thankless endeavor, and it would be nice if there was a way to show appreciation for all of the hard work that everyone does.”
The show started off normally enough – it is usually a hectic day of dealers getting set up, JPRS staff racing around preparing every aspect of the show and getting all this done before the show opens up to the public. But before it was underway on Friday, the two co-promoters halted their running around and addressed everyone at the venue to do so as well.
Taking the microphone and stage, Coppola spoke on behalf of the co-promoters, and formally announced that it had created an award which would individually recognize the lifetime contributions and service excellence of its dealer base.
Coppola explained, “For all of the efforts that our dealers perform for us on a regular basis, Jim and I thought it would be a good idea to set some time aside to recognize how important our dealer base is to the success of our shows. We wanted to make an award which would show our appreciation for all that the dealers do and have done for us over the years, and to thank them for all they do to help our shows be the best memorabilia shows we can put out there.
“We decided it would be time to issue this award, the first of its kind from JPRS, to one very important dealer in particular at our show. The very first sports card and memorabilia show that was hosted at the County Center took place in March 1982, and the dealer who will be receiving this award has been setting up at these shows for all 32 years they have been running at this facility.”
Ryan and Coppola then announced that long-time dealer Ron Vitro of E & R Galleries in New Rochelle, N.Y., will be the award’s initial recipient for his lifetime contribution and service excellence throughout his 30-plus-year career in the industry, one in which he has witnessed all the rises and falls within the hobby and yet has managed to be a mainstay through all the good times and bad.
Those present applauded and celebrated with Vitro on his award. Ryan presented Vitro with a handsome, etched glass award, and Coppola then added that in addition to his award, JPRS would also provide a free booth for the weekend, a gift card for dinner for him and his wife and also presented Vitro with a Frank Thomas jersey and a Tino Martinez jersey. Both players went directly to Vitro’s booth to sign the items in person, as they were the show’s headline guests.
As the ceremony continued, Coppola went on to mention a few other important details regarding their newly created award. First, the company’s website (nyshows.org) will feature a page dedicated to Vitro and the award – a “hall of fame” if you will. The dealer will “have their jersey number retired,” as Coppola puts it, though cautioning that Vitro is nowhere near retirement and remains very active doing JPRS shows and other events across the country.
Secondly, Coppola stated that “this award will not be out given annually, or at any regular interval. It will only be given out when the time calls for it.” Lastly, Coppola added, “Ron will be the only recipient of the JPRS Award of Excellence; all other winners in the future will be receiving the Ron Vitro Award.”
After the ceremonies, Coppola said, “The first person we thought of was Ronnie. He’s been setting up at every one of our shows since Jim and I have been owners. He’s even been setting up at these shows since they were still Gloria Rothstein’s, and that takes dedication and a passion to be doing it for so long. We wanted to make sure that was acknowledged and celebrated.”
Coppola added, “This was something Jim and I thought had to be done. We thought about it for a long time, and we finally did something. The dealers deserve to be recognized for the service that they provide to the community.”
The award announcement caught Vitro off guard, as Ryan and Coppola kept the plans a secret from virtually everyone. Vitro intimated to Ryan and Coppola that they “got him good” and that he had “no idea this was coming.”
As an observer, I can say that Ron was clearly very touched by this, and he went on to say that it’s wonderful to be acknowledged for his dedication in front of all of his peers.
To find out more information about JPRS and the Ron Vitro Award of Excellence, and to get dates for upcoming shows and events, visit nyshows.org, or follow their Facebook page at facebook.com/JPsSports.