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Jon English: the collector

Shelbyville is his second home

By MARK MCGEE - Special to the T-G
Posted 8/27/22

Collecting is in Jon English’s blood and he still makes buying trips around the country and also purchases items brought to his tables at card and memorabilia shows.  

“In 1985 …

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Jon English: the collector

Shelbyville is his second home


Collecting is in Jon English’s blood and he still makes buying trips around the country and also purchases items brought to his tables at card and memorabilia shows.  

“In 1985 I was 25 and still trying to play pro football and halfway working,” English said. “I was at an auction and some guy bought some cards. At the time I was collecting guns.”  

“This guy was smart and well off. I wondered what he knew that I didn’t know. I started investigating and at 26 I put an ad in the paper offering to buy cards.”  

He quickly hit paydirt. The first person to answer his ad offered him drawers of old baseball cards.  

“I bought those for $1,000 which was a lot of money back then,” English said. “He threw in all of his hockey, football and basketball cards for free.”  

He sold cards to dealers and then one day he decided he wanted to be a dealer as well.  

“I was doing it mostly for fun,” English said. “I put together a 1955 Topps baseball set, my first. It was all fun and it is still fun.”  

Basking in the glow  

He has chairs in a circle in one side of the building where he can usually be found on weekends going through cards and talking to customers and visitors.  

“It is cool to sit around and look at this stuff,” English said. “I was lucky to get these buildings. When I found out it was the old Sports Shop, I really liked that. These are the original cases used in the store. We just put glass fronts on them.  

“I couldn’t do this if I had to pay rent. This stuff is really cool when you find it. It displays cool. This is more of my passion because it is one-of-a-kind stuff. When sports people come in here, they are blown away. When the word gets out it brings more tourists to Shelbyville.”  

English still spends a lot of time going through sports cards. He has spent countless hours counting and sorting cards through the years.  

“If someone brings you 5,000 cards you have to go through them because you don’t know what the next card might be,” English said. “I am a hunter when it comes to sports stuff. . . . love digging the nooks and crannies.”  

Football sets the stage  

English was a top high school quarterback at Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Mich. in the 1970s, winning numerous awards including being named to Parade Magazine’s All-American team. He was voted as the top high school athlete in Michigan.  

He also played baseball and basketball and was a high jumper. He played for several college teams starting with Michigan State. He also played for Allegheny Junior College, Iowa State, Delgado Junior College and Tulane University where his father, Wally English, coached him.  

“I loved all sports growing up,” English said. “I got up every day thinking about athletics. I am that way today. Every day is a new game. I am always hustling.  

“Football paid for my college. I didn’t apply myself in college. I had an injury and some bad breaks.”  

He came to Nashville at the age of 29 in 1989. He decided it was time to get a “real job” after his dream of pro football ended.  

Preserving history  

Like his father, Jon was attracted to the construction business. He and his four brothers would spend their summer vacations helping frame houses for their father.  

In 2003 he and Tony Williams co-founded Commercial Industrial Construction, Inc., in Nashville with 30 full-time employees. Prior to that he spent several years working on a variety of construction projects.  

In addition to renovating the two buildings housing his sports card and antique business he has also been refurbishing the building which housed the law office of Clarence “Pete” Phillips on East Depot.  

He owns four storefronts in Shelbyville. He owns the building which housed Tip Thompson’s Menswear. He rents it to Leeanne’s Flowers.  

English has been questioned on why he chose Shelbyville for his business and his construction projects.  

“There is no rhyme or reason to it,” English said. “As I came across all of this (sports) stuff I also paid attention to real estate. I had the opportunity to buy Tip Thompson’s old store. It was owned by a guy in Nashville who passed away.  

“I didn’t know where Shelbyville was. I knew it was the walking horse capital. I drove down and looked at it. It was exactly what I was looking for.”  

English, who lives in Brentwood, has found a second home in Shelbyville. He has hired local people to oversee items like plumbing, heat, and air.  

“I have been very fortunate with the people I have met here,” English said. “The people here are solid. Shelbyville is not super small, but I call it Small Town USA. It has been a very good experience coming to Shelbyville. I have been able to buy buildings at a reasonable price.”  

He added, “It has been5 or 6 years ago since I started my adventure here. I have been very fortunate to buy rundown buildings that needed fixing up. It makes me feel good and makes me proud to bring a building back to something that is useful again. It has been a fortunate journey.”