This past week, Eddie Barkley was busy setting up some new social media accounts. On Saturday, he was tidying up prior commitments by manning a table at the Sports Animal Sportsfest at the Knoxville Expo Center.
Last Wednesday, Barkley turned over the keys to Sports Treasures, one of Fountain City’s most enduring businesses. A long-time customer and business associate, Zach Haire, is the new owner. Barkley started the business 33 years ago with his late father, Joe, in a building on Essary Road across from Litton’s Restaurant.
At the age of 55, after decades of hard work and few real vacations, he is stepping off into retirement. Why now?
“I want to enjoy retirement while I can still get around and do things, while I can still walk,” he said, adding (only half-jokingly), “plus I’d like to add some RAM back to the gray matter. Owning and running a business, mostly by yourself, is full time all the time.”
Though originally from Fountain City, Barkley mostly spent his youth in other states due to his father’s job moving the family from place to place. A good chunk of it was spent in West Virginia, and he recalls many trips back to Knoxville to attend UT sporting events, especially football games, as his father was an avid Vols fan.
Eventually, the family made it back to Fountain City, and Barkley graduated from Central High School in 1984. By 1988, he had graduated from UT and was working at a bank, newly married with a baby on the way. The company his father worked for was bought out, and the senior Barkley was looking at yet another relocation.
“This time, Dad said ‘no.’ He had no intention of leaving Fountain City ever again,” Barkley said. “He approached me about opening a baseball card shop.”
Here’s the kicker: Barkley never knew that his father had collected baseball cards.
“I didn’t know about his secret hobby. I was the youngest, and, honestly, he probably just wanted to make sure I didn’t get into them and mess them up,” he said. “I don’t blame him for that.”
Barkley had never been a collector himself, and neither he nor his father had any experience in running a retail shop. But they jumped in and did it anyway.
“At the time we opened in 1989, there were 22 other card shops in Knoxville,” he said. “But the majority of them were side hobby shops. They didn’t have regular, normal business hours, were open part-time or by appointment only and often were limited to just cards.”
Where the Barkleys stood out was their different approach to their shop, offering regular, full-time retail hours. He said they specifically put the money and effort into making the store more appealing to women, with attractive display cases, better lighting and carpeting. And while cards were and still are the anchor product of the business, they expanded into other related products, such as sports memorabilia and apparel.
After his father passed away in 2004, Barkley moved the store to its current location at 4819 North Broadway in the shopping center anchored by Food City. There since 2005, the shop (until just recently) was the only card shop left in town and claims to be the largest sports cards and memorabilia store in the Southeast. That’s quite an accomplishment for a father and son who supposedly had no idea what they were doing.
“While I am ready to move on, it’s been very humbling the comments I’ve been getting from friends, customers,” Barkley said. “You realize how much of an impact you made on people. From our earliest customers, I’ve seen their kids, and now their kids coming in. It’s been great.”
Barkley sold the business and its inventory, plus the website and social media accounts that go with it. He will still keep his own eBay store, Eddie’s Sports Treasures, for selling some of his personal inventory. He’s looking forward to the arrival of his first grandchild this summer and spending lots of time at Chicago Cubs games.
“Oh, I’ve got enough plans to keep me busy for six months,” he said. “It’s going to be nice to travel for a whole week or longer instead of just a few days.”