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FINAL INNING AT FAMEABILIA

JuliebaronYogi said it ain’t over ’til it’s over, but after seven years on Monmouth Street, Julie Baron and husband Bruce are signing off at their memorabilia showcase store.

By TOM CHESEK

RETIREMENT SALE. EVERYTHING MUST GO. 50% OFF.

The signs went up on Monday morning across the windows of the downtown Red Bank storefront, pretty much taking all who saw them by surprise.

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Even owner Julie Baron admitted to some mixed feelings when she first viewed the new signage from across Monmouth Street. But then, it was Julie’s decision, finalized just this past Sunday night, to close the doors of Fameabilia, the high-profile memorabilia and collectibles business that she and her husband Bruce have operated at 42 Monmouth for nearly seven and a half years.

Bittersweet as the decision may have been, it represents a clean break for the Rumson residents, who have no plans to seek a buyer for the established business, or to continue as an online entity. The owners are committed to staying open through Christmas Eve — “even if there’s just one thing left hanging on the wall,” in Baron’s words — and the store’s regular seven-day schedule is expected to be observed for the duration.

Although the often bleak retailing landscape of 2008 has claimed its share of local merchants both upscale and downmarket, the Barons insist that the Kingda Kaa market movements of the past few weeks are not at the root of the family’s decision. Citing some recent articles, Baron makes the case that many investors are looking anew at sports and personal memorabilia as a safer place to park their money in volatile times — a Vida Blue rookie card gleaming brighter than a faded blue-chip stock.

Neither, apparently, has the business been besieged by family illness, landlord disputes, inter-office squabbles — any of the many variables that often factor into an independent merchant’s throwing in the towel.

“I’m just tired of the everyday business,” says a cheerful and not-at-all tired looking Baron. “A project like this takes everything you have — you’re always on call for customers and dealers, nights, weekends, whatever.”

“If you want to run things the right way, you need to commit that time — and I feel that I can’t make that commitment anymore, so rather than be less effective, I’d rather say goodbye.”

With Bruce Baron maintaining his legal practice, and the next generation of Barons having shown no interest in the family business, Julie moved instead to liquidate a full store’s worth of stock by year’s end — not by seeking an offer from a bulk-buy dealer, but by going the good old Red Bank route of selling off piece by piece, game-winning ball by gold-plated record — and all at an across-the-board 50 percent discount.

No word on whether this includes the couple’s prized “not for sale” possession — an official, Congressionally recognized Peter Force copy of the Declaration of Independence, circa 1848.

It was the Barons’ interest in collecting historical documents that inspired them to open Fameabilia in May of 2001, at the location of a former playhouse and café. Retaining some of the theater seats for their signing room, the owners established their store as a major stop on the regional personal appearance circuit, hosting events featuring pinstripe perennials (Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto), gridiron greats (Lawrence Taylor, Mean Joe Greene), ring champs (Joe Frazier and Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta), as well as a score of actors, pro wrestlers, broadcast journalists and other celebs.

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Ollie North visits the Fameabilia showroom for the store’s final scheduled personal appearance event on December 13.

There’s one more in-store event on the schedule — a December 13 appearance by Iran-Contra scandal pinup, author and Fox News commentator Oliver North. The Lt. Colonel will sign copies of his books between the hours of 1 and 4p (pre-orders are recommended) — even if, as Julie would suggest, he’s the last thing left in the store.

Until those hanger-hooks are showing, Baron and her staff will continue offering up a museum-quality selection that has ranked as one of the borough’s most popular browsing experiences — with fully authenticated artifacts of Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe sharing display space with Joe Pepitone‘s bat, Sinatra‘s cleaning bill — even an eyepatch worn by legendary Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan.

“Collecting memorabilia will continue to be a passion for me,” says Baron. “I’ll always love it; I’m just not going to sell it — although I have to say I’m gonna miss the town, the people, all our customers.”

The Barons, who own the 4,500-square-foot building, will “hopefully get in a good, strong tenant” to fill the latest gaping hole in downtown Red Bank’s smile.

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