BY JOSHUA MCMORROW-HERNANDEZ

We all remember our first encounters with a coin dealer. My first positive mail-order experience came when I was an adolescent collector in 1994 and ordered a birth year set from prominent Chicago-area coin store Jake’s Marketplace. The shop, once a bricks-and-mortar operation located in the heart of The Windy City, has shifted its efforts entirely to online sales and moved to suburban Chicago. Since its founding in 1963, Jake’s Marketplace has evolved to adapt to the ever-changing market conditions. But at least one thing has not changed about Jake’s: it’s still a family-owned and -operated business.

I caught up with owners Michael Jacobs and his younger brother, Jonathan Jacobs, who eschew formal professional titles and approach their family business as a wholly mutual effort. They took time from their busy schedules to share their story of the challenges, opportunities, and successes that have come their way in the rapidly reshaping coin industry and offer several key lessons on what they’ve learned from their many decades in the business.

Q. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED WITH THE DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS AT JAKE’S MARKETPLACE?

A. Michael: Being in a family business, I have grown up with it. I can remember as a kid doing the odd job of sorting coins, being the manual labor cranking a coin-counting machine, and once filling orders for Boys Life magazine for wheat cents. I started part time in 1981 and took a full-time position in 1986.

A. Jonathan: 31 years.

Q. HOW HAS YOUR ROLE CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?

A. Michael: I started by working on minor repairs, and polishing and cleaning gold and silver jewelry and other collectible items. I eventually took over doing accounting and other assorted jobs, retail, IT, buying, and whatever else needed to be done.

A. Jonathan: I mostly filled orders and served customers when I first started. Now, my main focus is on getting new coins online and keeping up our inventory of supplies.

Q. HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO THE COIN MARKET?

A. Michael: The process was one of evolving guidance from family and other staff, and a lot of reading! The use of computers to read the dealers’ networks, seeing buy and sell requests, and using the advancing tech really made me more involved with daily business activity.

A. Jonathan: I began working in college and continued on full time after college.

Q. HOW DID YOU MAKE BEING A COIN DEALER A FULL-TIME BUSINESS?

A. Michael: Its a family business, so I had an easy in road to get here. I have not always wanted to make this my life profession, but with the momentum of knowledge and experience it became a way of life.

A. Jonathan: Basically, I just followed in the family footsteps.

Q. WHEN DID JAKE’S MARKETPLACE PHASE OUT ITS LONG-RUNNING MAIL-ORDER CATALOG?

A. Michael: Our last catalog was published in 1999, and we suspended publishing it in 2000 when we made the move to become a 100% online business. Catalogs become obsolete in a collectibles business very quickly, but the internet is alive, as we are always making updates to add more coins and remove sold items.

Q. JAKE’S MARKETPLACE BEGAN AS A TRADITIONAL BRICKS-AND-MORTAR STORE; HOW DID THE BUSINESS BECOME AN ONLINE OPERATION?

A. Michael: The Jakes bricks-and-mortar days started with Dads first store on Lawrence Ave [in Chicago] around 1963. The Jakes name came about from a second store opened for his father-Grandpa Jakes-in the early ’70s on Belmont Avenue [also in Chicago]. It was decided to close the first location and merge the operations under the Jakes name several years later. In 1980, plans were made to create a larger store a couple blocks away at Central and Wellington [Avenues]. 38 years of six-days-a-week retail was enough for Mom and Dad. The idea of selling online was growing as I was actively listing and selling coins on CompuServe in the mid ’90s. In 1996, I gave Dad a gift of accessing the internet startup kit, and it sat on his desk for a year before he considered the internet. When he saw the online sales potential, taking the idea online was easy, as his desktop publishing skills created a website that was just an online version of the printed catalog. In 1999, the demand from online advertising for 50 States Quarters products made it easy to decide that the move to an all-internet format could be accomplished. When the move was complete,Dad found an easy way to incorporate e-commerce with the website, and its proved successful to our online growth. I worked to help develop the IT process that would help control our customer service needs, improve shipping efficiency, find ways to make quicker revisions, and update the website.

Q. PLEASE TELL US A BIT ABOUT HOW YOUR BUSINESS HAS EVOLVED OVER THE YEARS

A. Michael: Our core principal remains the same: we are a hands-on family-run business that wants its customers to enjoy collecting. We have just gone from doing this in a bricks-and-mortar store to using the utility of the intern