Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, John Sawyer has a shop full of stars for your inspection.
Located on Franklin Avenue, a mere stride from the Waco Running Company, Rare Performance Memorabilia showcases novelty items, instruments and apparel linked to such luminaries as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen and U2, as well as movies like “The Godfather” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
Sawyer, a world traveler and businessman who hails from Waco, accumulated his collection over decades, scouring sales of star-studded merchandise in Los Angeles and auctions sponsored by Sotheby’s.
He made an offer sellers could not refuse for a faux machine gun signed by Marlon Brando, James Caan, “the whole cast, in fact,” who appeared in the first “Godfather” film. He secured three cartoons drawn by Beatle John Lennon, “one being a self-portrait, another portraying himself with a long nose, like Pinocchio,” Sawyer said in an interview.
Asking price for the cartoons? $50,000.
“Can I get that? In China, yes, but probably not in Waco, Texas,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer’s 4,000-piece collection is appraised at $5 million for insurance purposes. He said more than 3,500 items are tucked away in climate-controlled comfort at an unidentified location, from which he ships internationally.
He will tap these warehoused gems to replenish stock at his store, located in the 700 block of Franklin Ave., and part of the Franklin Square project of developer Shane Turner and businessman Todd Behringer, who opened the Waco Running Co. store. They are transforming the iconic Waco Labor Temple and the former Fred & Wally’s sports bar into retail, restaurant and loft space.
Turner, who could not be reached for comment Monday, is seeking more than 20 commitments to fill a proposed food-and-beverage emporium called Union Hall at South Eighth Street and Franklin Avenue. He also is adding screens to the Waco Hippodrome theater a block away at Eighth Street and Austin Avenue.
Sawyer, 52, grew up in Waco, attended the University of Texas for two years, then sought his fortune, literally, in the realm of commercial aerospace. He became a respected authority on modifying planes for lease or sale, as well as negotiating deals, with the goal of attracting investors wanting a piece of the action, according to 30West, a company he co-founded.
He also held executive positions with aerospace companies based in Texas and in Dublin, Ireland, but it was while living on the West Coast that his passion for collecting memorabilia flourished. He now manages an aviation-related hedge fund that requires a trip to Luxembourg every two weeks.
But Sawyer, whose uncle, the late Wendall Crunk, was a longtime McLennan County commissioner, could not resist the lure of his hometown. He said he wanted to join the changing look and feel of its inner city, and jumped at the chance to display his collection 25 years in the making.
“I have at least 400 pieces of Elvis memorabilia, including several signed albums, one from when he was stationed in Germany,” Sawyer said. “One of my favorite pieces is an ‘Ocean’s 11’ movie poster signed by George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon, the whole cast.”
A poster of the mugging Rolling Stones rock band, promoting their “Sticky Fingers” album, is strategically placed to catch the eye of pedestrians.
“There are five sets of pants that belonged to the Stones’ Ronnie Wood, one pair he wore during a concert,” Sawyer said. “I also have a lot of ‘Rat Pack’ items featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and others, as well as items from Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.”
Sawyer said he will keep the 1,000-square-foot shop stocked with about 200 pieces of memorabilia at any given time, using his stockpile to rotate items at least every three months, “kind of like a museum.”
Three people will staff the shop from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and Sawyer said he puts a premium on security.
“There are so many cameras, you’d think it was a casino,” he said.
Diane Deaver, wife of Mayor Kyle Deaver, said she attended a soft opening of the shop on Friday evening, and came away impressed.
“What a great addition to Waco,” she said in an email. “John’s extensive collection and experience in memorabilia will fill a unique niche. Such an interesting place and a cool storefront.”
Marshall Stewman, of Dallas, whose downtown ventures include Mary Avenue Market, said he likes seeing an eclectic mix of shops opening downtown, each offering a unique experience that keeps visitors returning.
“I don’t see a stop to it anytime soon,” he said. “That’s what makes Waco appealing right now. There is competition, but not so much that one shop is hurting another. It makes downtown more appealing.”