Brown SBDC Award Pic 1.jpg

Photo contributed

Bricks and Ivy owner Bob Brown (right) stands with his son, Nick Brown (left), inside the store on Main Street in Hoopeston.

Each year, the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Danville Area Community College recognizes area small business stars during National Small Business Week. Since 1964, the Small Business Administration has set aside a time annually to recognize the hard work of entrepreneurs to provide goods and services to communities across the country.

The week was delayed from May to September and the SBDC is not able to recognize the small business stars at the typical breakfast awards event but these changes are small examples of the many challenges small businesses, throughout area communities and around the country, have tackled this year.

This year’s Illinois SBDC at DACC Small Business Stars are:

- Small Business of the Year — Bricks and Ivy, 201 E. Main St., Hoopeston, IL

- Small Business Start-Up of the Year — Venue 22 – 22 N Hazel St., Danville, IL

- Entrepreneur of the Year — Amy Schweizer/Tiny Troops Soccer – based in Danville with 35 locations at military bases across the country

- Legacy Small Business of the Year — Lincoln Lanes – 107 W Harrison St., Danville, IL

The Small Business Development Center provided an interview with Brown, conducted by Bill Pickett, about the business. To see the interviews with the other winners, visit https://illinoissbdcatdacc.com/illinois-sbdc-dacc-small-business-awards/. The interview with Brown is printed below:

If you stop by Bricks and Ivy Sports, Sports Cards and Memorabilia, in Hoopeston, chances are you would be surprised at all of the collectibles there. It is one of the Vermilion County businesses being honored this month as winners of the 2020 Small Business of the Year Award. The award is presented by the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Danville Area Community College.

Bricks and Ivy Sports owner Bob Brown describes the business:

“We are a sports cards – memorabilia – gifts store. We also do player signings where we bring Major League Baseball, Basketball, Football players in and do public signings with them. We send off memorabilia for framing,” added Brown, “just offer a lot of services within the sports memorabilia and cards category.”

Brown says the business got started out of a need to clean out his basement.

“Well, we’ve just been collecting – our family – for a long time. And most of this was in our basement, to be honest, when we started,” said Brown. “And we bought this building, had this space, so we thought we would start one. We’ve traveled the country going to sports cards and memorabilia stores, so we just thought we would try it ourselves.”

And how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the business this year?

“Well it did shut us down for a while, but we do so much online. And if you know anything about sports cards you’ll know that it’s one of the hottest investments right now,” said Brown. “There are huge investors that are dropping their money in the stock market to scoop up sports cards. It’s super hot right now. We do a lot of our business online – probably 75-percent. So we were able to keep running even though we couldn’t keep the doors open,” added Brown.

As mentioned, Bricks and Ivy Sports also hosts events where Major League players travel to Hoopeston to meet their fans. Brown says he and other members of his family enjoy bringing them into town, and he explained how they are able to do it.

“Well, we just have a few agents we work with. And they make them offers, and as long as you pay them enough money they’re willing to come,” said Brown. “You look for the nicer people that are going to be better with our customers. We just try to keep getting more – and bigger – and try to make customers be able to see players they may never get to see in person.”

Brown adds, unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted the player events they wanted to host this year.

“We have a few scheduled but they’ve obviously been postponed until probably next year. We have Ozzie Guillen, and Aramis Ramirez that were scheduled but got postponed until 2021,” said Brown. “But we’ve had – last year i think we had eleven signers in one year. So we had Ryne Sandberg, Dennis Rodman – Ben Zobrist was the one we had right before COVID hit. And he was our biggest signing by far.”

Brown says St. Louis Cardinal standout Lou Brock was one of his favorite players who stopped by his business in Hoopeston.

“… one of his last public signings was here. And he drove all the way up from St. Louis. And he was one of the most likable people you’d ever meet,” said Brown. “He come in on a walker, but he would stand up for every picture. He would get up and down in his chair because he wanted to make people happy. He was a great guy.”

Brock died on Sept. 6, 2020.

With the popularity of Bricks and Ivy Sports, some people wonder why it stays in the small town of Hoopeston.

“…that’s pretty much what they say,” said Brown. “When we have signings, we have regular people that fly in from California, Florida – I mean pretty much every state has been represented here with people coming for signings. And this is just where we’re from. We have multiple businesses in town. So it just seemed like the right place to do it.”

In addition to Bricks and Ivy Sports, Sports Cards and Memorabilia, Brown owns a construction company. And he and his wife, Emily, own the 112 Wine and Coffee Shop and run a property management company in Hoopeston.

The Illinois SBDC at DACC has served nearly 200 small businesses so far in 2020 as business people seek options to help them deal with weeks of shut downs, reduced capacities and increased safety requirements. At the same time, even more people are interested in starting businesses. The entrepreneurial spirit is still strong and will endure despite these setbacks.

The Illinois SBDC at DACC is part of a nationwide network funded at the federal level by the SBA at the state level by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and locally through Danville Area Community College to provide confidential, no-cost to the user one-on-one consulting services and free/low-cost training opportunities for businesses at all stages of their business life.

For more information, email sbdc@dacc.edu, call 217-442-7232, or register for services on our website www.illinoissbdcatdacc.com.