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VOL. 117 | NO. 214 | Tuesday, December 16, 2003

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The 7th Inning stretches time, business

The 7th Inning Stretches Time for Customers


The Daily News

Selling nickel hot dogs and game-day baseball programs at Russwood Park, a young Charlie Cleaves learned some of life's most important lessons, including how to run a business and the proper way to treat folks of all kinds.

Old-fashioned chat room. Now owner and manager of The 7th Inning a baseball and sports memorabilia store on the fringes of Midtown that also offers trophy engraving services and a restaurant, Brubakers Cleaves takes time out of every day to chat with anyone, young or old.

"The best thing you got these days is time, because it's the hardest thing to have," Cleaves said.

Accordingly, it's no surprise that baseball, the only major sport played without a game clock, is Cleaves' favorite game.

"Sports are the shoestrings that keep the country together," he said. "But baseball is the one sport above them all. The day that baseball goes away is the day the country follows.

Cleaves, a native Memphian, worked in Shelby County law enforcement for more than 20 years. When he retired in 1987, he opened his store in the Chickasaw Crossing Shopping Center.

Triple play. Ten years later, he moved out of his expanded store in the center and built his current store at 3040 Walnut Grove Road, near the new Central Library.

The stores interior is what makes it unique.

Inside, The 7th Innings walls are covered with nostalgic framed photos of celebrities, local and national sports heroes and championship teams. The store has a bar and television, bleacher seats and other tables where lunch and dinner are served daily, including a popular all-you-can-eat catfish dinner on Friday nights.

Cleaves said every aspect of the store supports the others.

For instance, The 7th Inning not only produces trophies and custom-framed photos, it also hosts private team parties where coaches can hand them out.

In many instances, Cleaves said, senior citizens shop for baseball cards and other gifts for their grandchildren at the store. Even if they dont care for sports, they discover the restaurant and return to dine.

Cleaves said many seniors frequent the store daily for coffee and lively gossip.

I saw early on there would be a need to diversify, he said. You always must look for different avenues.

Supply and demand. He first saw the need to diversify in the early 90s, when the baseball card industry took a hit.

Cleaves said it was a matter of change in supply and demand.

Normally theres a high demand but limited amount, so the cost is high, he said. But when companies began the mass production of cards, putting them on shelves in Wal-Mart, the cost went down.

Dealers like Cleaves eventually adjusted to the change in the marketplace and cut back on stock, slowly causing card values to rise.

Today, the novelty sports card business is good overall, he said.

A fitting tribute. Cleaves said he had wanted to enter the restaurant business for a long time, and vowed that when that happened he would name the eatery Brubakers in memory of Cleotis Brubaker, an older, street-wise mentor he met in his youth who sold barbecue to patrons during the 1950s and made a lasting impression on Cleaves.

Brubaker had hired Cleaves as a courier of at first only barbecue, but later of medicinal potion which Cleaves later discovered was bootlegged moonshine.

Cleaves said it was Brubaker who taught him how to make a dollar. But just as importantly, Brubaker taught him the importance of being fair to everyone.

What I saw about him was that he was courteous to everyone, Cleaves said. Thats a quality in people who look you in the eyes and take the time to speak, to connect with you.

Working with Brubaker, Cleaves also learned the value of working hard and investing wisely.

Customers first. When The 7th Inning opened for business, Cleaves invested in 500 books of baseball cards.

Later, when the business added engraving and trophy services, Cleaves said it was extra-special customer service that made the store a success.

We treat people above and beyond, he said. Maybe a customer waited until the last minute to place an order. You want to ask why, but it doesnt matter.

Weve stayed up all night doing jobs for next-day business. If you dont do it, youve lost revenue, and the customer is going to remember that you couldnt help him.


The 7th Inning

Owner: Charlie Cleaves

Founded: 1987

Basics: The sports memorabilia store and attached Brubakers restaurant focus on taking time to meet customers needs.


PROPERTY SALES 32 252 16,449
MORTGAGES 35 120 10,207
BUILDING PERMITS 215 1,041 39,585
BANKRUPTCIES 52 188 7,785