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Coin Corner celebrates golden anniversary

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Gary Wickwire, Leanna Matchett and Toby Wickwire stand in front of a wall of vintage lunchboxes.Ask Gary Wickwire what kind of merchandise he stocks in his Oregon City store Coin Corner & Hobbies, and he will tell you this: 'We have anything you had as a kid.'

He is not joking. The shop has Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars, model trains, vintage boxed games, die-cast cars, sports equipment, fishing gear, old magazines and records, Legos and lunch boxes.

The Wickwire family has had a long time to collect all that stuff. The Coin Corner is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it is staffed by the family's second and third generations.

Gary Wickwire's father, Gerald, started the store in 1962, after working for 20 years at the nearby paper mill.

'He started out with coins, and had a few model kits and slot cars, and then he expanded into new hobby stuff,' Gary Wickwire said.

His mother, Elleanora, and his grandparents worked in the store, which originally opened in West Linn, then moved to a location that is now the Elks Club parking lot. Coin Corner moved to its current location, at the foot of the downtown Oregon City elevator, in 1965.

At the new site, the shop was divided, with the coin/hobby store on one side, and a pool hall and two slot car tracks on the other. In the early 1970s, the hobby shop expanded, and the pool hall and slot car tracks were closed. People still come in today, hoping to show their grandchildren the slot car tracks.

Gary Wickwire was in charge of running the pool tables starting when he was 11. Except for the few years he was in college, he has never really left the shop.

Coins have been a constant in the store, but Wickwire has gradually added antiques and phased out new items. The focus of the store is now on coins, vintage toys, collectibles and used hobby equipment.

Online sales

The business changed again in 1999, when Wickwire began selling items on eBay. He estimates that 50 percent to 80 percent of his business is now online. That is where his two children, Leanna Matchett and Toby Wickwire, come in.

The two are in their 30s, but both began working at Coin Corner when they were children.

Matchett has been working full time at the store for 15 years, and she takes photos and puts items for sale on the Internet. Best sellers include HO-scale trains and die-cast airplanes, she said, noting that other items in the store close to her heart include Barbies, Strawberry Shortcake and Smurfs.

She is also fascinated by coins. 'You can learn so much from them,' Matchett said. 'You will never know everything about coins, there is so much to learn.'

Her brother, Toby, started working at Coin Corner in 1983 part time, and full time in 1992. What he likes best is 'cleaning, testing and organizing things when we buy them. I especially like toys from my childhood, like G.I. Joes and Transformers.'

He helps his sister with the eBay end of the business, including researching items and putting them back together to get them ready to sell.

He collects technology items from the 1970s and 1980s, including video games, calculators and radios. He predicts that things people aren't saving right now will be collectible in the future.

Enduring business

Gary Wickwire believes that Coin Corner has stayed in business for so long because the store carries 'such a variety of things that people wanted when they were kids. Adults come in and say, ‘Wow, this is the coolest store I've ever been in.''

He buys and sells gold, silver and coins, along with vintage toys, like Hot Wheels, Legos, 'Star Wars' memorabilia and Barbie dolls.

People still collect coins, to finish off a collection they began as kids, or to invest in.

'Rare coins hold their value; it is an investment, like stocks,' he said, noting that collectibles in general hold their value well, even during a recession or depression.

Wickwire has seen some unusual coins come through the shop, including a rare penny designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909.

'They only made 484,000 of them, and the normal run of a penny is over 1 million. Condition of any coin makes a lot of difference,' he said, noting that a VDB penny could sell for between $600 to $5,000 depending on the condition.

The rarest coins he's ever seen are four Double Eagle $20 gold pieces, from the early 1900s. At auction, these coins could sell for $130,000 to $170,000.

The government stopped circulating gold coins in the 1930s, he said, noting that people were supposed to turn them in, but many did not. In 1984, it was once again legal to buy gold, Wickwire said.

He buys and sells gold and silver in a variety of forms. He also noted that for security purposes he stores all valuables in a safe, and the business is not a pawn shop.

'Coins are a good investment,' Wickwire said. 'Start now collecting whatever it is you want, but learn about it first. It is easier to do, if you know what you are doing.'