North Shore Coins collector values customers over coins

Olivia Bobrowsky

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Olivia Bobrowsky/The Daily Northwestern

Three years ago, a woman walked into North Shore Coins, desperate to pawn off a few small pieces of jewelry. After her husband was injured and lost his job, she had been back and forth for several months trying to liquidate her assets. Finally, Jim Coello, the owner of the store, was able to offer her a strong price.

“She told me, ‘Can you please come around here and give me a hug,'” Coello said, remembering the purchase. “She was in tears. ‘You saved us,’ she said. And stories like that are endless.”

Such interactions may be common in that small shop on 1501 Chicago Ave., but they’re not the norm in the coin industry. Instead, dealers will do anything to make a profit, he said, even if it means ripping off customers.

“Our motto is ‘Coins will come and coins will go, but customers are forever,'” the business’ Web site reads.

Still, as much as that sentiment is mirrored in Coello’s customer service, it’s slightly misleading. “Our” just refers to the 44-year old owner, who’s the sole employee besides a retired man who helps by running errands.

And when the motto says “coins,” it really means any valuable item that can be legally sold. The store’s display cases are chock full of everything from coins, jewelry and watches to an old monopoly game and a World War II sword.

“One of the most interesting things I’ve had in here was a pure gold cuff encrusted with diamonds,” he said. “I got it from someone who was friends with Liberace, who was known for giving very extravagant gifts.”

Despite Coello’s vast array of collections and their historical significance, he said he has completely lost his “collector’s mentality” since he took over the store four years ago. That is, he treats his inventory solely as commodity and remains emotionally detached. That gold cuff, for example, he immediately sold to a buyer from New York.

“There are certain things I’m keeping in the safe that I won’t sell just yet just because I’d like to get really good money from them,” he said.

Even so, one item locked away in his safe carries emotional meaning. About a year and a half ago, he bought a collection of tokens used as money in the Nazi concentration camps, along with photos of the camps.

“I’m Jewish, so that item’s very close to my heart,” he said. “If I become very wealthy I might just donate that money to the Holocaust Museum. It’s hard to put a value on an item like that.”

But really, the value of his items is what ultimately matters to Coello, whose favorite part of the business is the “good money,” he said. The North Shore, he said, is a coin-rich area with a lot of old money, and he’s been able to sidestep the recession.

The problem, though, is that even if people are still eager to sell, younger generations aren’t so willing to buy. Coello said he used to advertise to Northwestern students, but now they’re hardly a part of his clientele.

“There are easier ways to make money,” said Weinberg sophomore Annie Liu, who used to help her grandpa collect stamps. “It takes too much time, and I’d rather get a job and do something that has a little more impact.”

Coello admitted his business probably won’t be viable after 10 or 15 years, but he said his future is economically sound. And in the meantime, he argues his work does have an impact.

“It’s kind of interesting to help people out when they’re in a jam,” he said. “It gives my life some meaning. I like helping.”