As an area that lies in the shadow of its former glory, the Triple Cities are entrenched in a rich history that is maintained by a number of community installments. One such installment is the Johnson City Coin Shop, which has stood on the corner of First and Main St. for over 40 years.
Since former owner Tom Maus bought the property in 1972 and turned it into a collector’s coin shop — originally it housed a snack bar that serviced the then-next-door Johnson City High School — the building has remained dedicated to the purpose of buying and selling rare coins. The store is currently owned by Gary Shoemaker, who bought the place from Maus in 2001.
“It’s one of those things where everybody knows where this place is, but few people have ever come in here,” Shoemaker said.
Shoemaker first picked up coin collecting as a hobby at a young age.
“When I was a kid I was attracted to pennies because you don’t have any money when you’re a kid,” he said. “But as I got older, I started liking the silver dollars better.”
While the popularity of the hobby has waned in recent years, Shoemaker still finds people who are actively pursuing the collection of coins. However, he recalls a time when the hobby was at its peak in the ’50s or ’60s, when silver coins were still in circulation.
“Now that coins aren’t made of silver anymore, they’ve taken them out of circulation,” Shoemaker said. “It kind of dampened the enthusiasm of finding something in your pocket. When you have to go buy it, it takes some of the mystique out of it.”
Places like the Coin Shop are important because they provide consistency and solidarity in a community’s identity. While nobody could live off the retail business that the storefront allows — Shoemaker also runs an online business on eBay — Shoemaker sees the importance of maintaining the shop.
“The real value of a storefront is that it affords the ability to buy stuff off the street,” he explained.
In addition, the storefront allows the opportunity for coin collectors to come in and share in a collective experience. When people visit places like the Coin Shop, they have access to a wealth of history and culture that might otherwise go unnoticed. The store is filled with hundreds of old coins that span the history of the United States and beyond. According to Shoemaker, people with an interest in coin collecting are typically history buffs.
“It’s the fact that something old, like a colonial silver dollar, that, who knows, George Washington could have held it at one time,” he said.
Coin collecting can be an unscrupulous business, according to Shoemaker, comparable to a used car dealership. Before jumping in, you need to have a grasp of the fundamentals of evaluating coins and know what detracts from a coin’s value. Even a coin that was lightly circulated might have a drastically lower value than an uncirculated coin. In the same vein, Shoemaker warns that one should never clean a coin.
“It clearly will destroy the value of a really valuable coin,” Shoemaker explained. “You shouldn’t do anything abrasive to it. A truly rare coin you want as original as possible.”
In his years of collecting, Shoemaker has found that there are two types of people: those with the collector mentality and those without.
“If you have a collector mentality, it doesn’t matter what you collect, you just understand it,” he said. “If you don’t have it, you’ll never understand.”
At the end of the day, coin collecting is a niche hobby that won’t appeal to everybody. However, it is a really interesting atmosphere to immerse yourself in if you ever want to marvel at a little slice of American history. For what it’s worth, the Coin Shop stands as a really great opportunity for students to experience something outside of the city of Binghamton.