It’s Monday morning, and Bill Vizas is thumbing through a stack of photos in his store. A customer in grey sweatpants and a white T-shirt stands nearby and watches. The man came in looking for old images of Larry Walker and Todd Helton.
“Decent Rockies,” Vizas jokes. “He just wanted to put them with some other stuff he had.”
Vizas doesn’t have much trouble finding them. It’s a pretty run-of-the-mill request for a man who’s owned and operated his own sports collectibles shop for the last 37 years. Vizas opened Bill’s Sports Collectibles on South Broadway in 1981. In that time, he’s grown his store from 550 square feet to 5,600 square feet while accumulating seemingly every type of sports collectible under the sun.
You can find anything at Bill’s. Pennants and flags, action figures and bobbleheads, waste baskets and cards, posters and magazines, VHS tapes and DVDs. And it’s not just Colorado teams. Take the back-left pocket of the store: An Oklahoma City Thunder waste basket sits on a shelf that’s near a Keith Van Horn action figure that’s near a Johnny Manziel Browns bobblehead that Vizas might have a difficult time selling. Vizas estimates he has 90 percent of all Sports Illustrated issues ever published and 95 percent of all Denver Broncos programs since 1970.
“It’s a lot, and I work here,” says Matt Duerksen, who’s an assistant manager at Bill’s.
Vizas came to Colorado in the late ’70s to attend CU. He moved from the Washington D.C. area where he grew up rooting for the local teams and collecting cards. Vizas was working at a department store, The Denver Dry Goods Company, when he decided to open his store at the age of 26.
“That was excellent training because I was in retail,” Vizas says. “Most people that start businesses don’t know how retail works. The big thing in any business is you have to turn inventory. You can’t fall in love with what you have. A lot of (sports collectible) stores have stuff highly priced because they want to have it. But you also have to have dollars to keep the door open.”
Denver Broncos memorabilia is Bill’s biggest seller.
“The Broncos out-sell the other three teams combined,” Vizas says, referring to the Avalanche, Nuggets and Rockies.
There is the requisite collection of game-worn jerseys from Broncos greats like Peyton Manning and John Elway, and there are off-the-wall Broncos items like a bobblehead of Von Miller imagined as a gnome. But at Bill’s there are also obscure items such as University of San Francisco football programs from the late ’40s and footballs the University of Denver used before its program was discontinued in 1961.
“We’ll have old college programs from universities you’ve never heard of,” Vizas says. “I have Michigan State stuff from when the school was still Michigan A&M. I’ve got stuff from when Colorado State was Colorado A&M. I get things that are a little more obscure.”
Vizas is now in his 37th year of running Bill’s. Watching him work, it doesn’t seem like time has dulled his passion for what he does. One minute he’s sorting through a pack of baseball cards. The next he’s diagnosing the Nuggets’ problems — defense, he says — with a customer.
“I just enjoy sports. I enjoy the customers. I enjoy the store,” Vizas says. “My staff is smart guys, and they like sports. Basically, it’s like if you work hard and kind of know what you’re doing, you’ll survive.”
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