Love of coins: FW3 has a dedicated, laid back following

·5 min read

Jul. 18—For Samir Fox-Wahab, owner of FW3 Coins in Mankato, the hobby of coin collecting began decades ago when he was a boy visiting the bustling vegetable markets in Saudi Arabia with his parents.

"When I was younger, they didn't have any way of growing produce back then (in the Saudi Arabian desert), so everything was imported from Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon," Fox-Wahab explained. "They (merchants) would come once a week to the market. That's where I'd go and buy coins from the drivers. They always had really cool stuff."

Back then, he never pictured he would one day own his own coin shop in the United States. After moving to the region, he got a job at Brown Printing in Waseca. When the company closed the department that he was working in, he had to find a new way to earn an income. After working for a time as a postal worker, and still very passionate about coin collecting, his wife suggested he open his own coin shop.

He found an office space on the third floor of the Landmark Center in downtown Mankato in 2012 while still working at the post office full time, testing the waters to see if the business would succeed. Instead of traditional advertising, Fox-Wahab spread the word on his own — in daily conversations and word of mouth.

"The first person we talked to is still a really good customer," Fox-Wahab said. "We were at Hobby Lobby, and he was looking at coins in books. I said, 'we're opening a coin shop.' He said, 'give me a call when it's open,' and he came down."

As more customers reached out to him by appointment, Fox-Wahab found what would become a permanent location at 107 E. Cherry Street in Mankato. Business was good enough that he left his postal job to work full time at the shop, with regular business hours from Monday through Saturday every week.

His inventory is largely made up of his own collection, along with the coins and precious metals he buys from customers or dealers. It includes a variety of paper money and coins from different places and years, along with gold and silver — an increasingly popular trend among collectors.

"About 99% of the people that come in know what they're doing," he said. "They come because they want to look at coins and they want to look for coins. Of course, now it's evolved into precious metals — gold and silver — that's been very popular for the past few years. These people love to search online and find the best deals out there."

Visiting his shop is a social affair, and Fox-Wahab regularly shares his knowledge — talking casually with others who have found joy in the hobby. Google reviews of his business consistently describe him as knowledgeable, friendly, and welcoming.

"Coin collectors are laid back, they have time, most of them are retired and have some extra money to buy some," Fox-Wahab said. "That's why people like to come here; I like coins and we just click for some reason. But somehow coins are what brings us together."

Rarity the key

Frank Shemonek, of Waseca, usually stops in to chat and talk coins with Fox-Wahab when he's in town.

"I retired in 2006 and have had some freedom and loose money," Shemonek said. "I actually drove by here on my days that I would come to Mankato, and just happened to see the coin shop."

Shemonek and Fox-Wahab hit it off right away.

"Samir has been helping me get some collections together for myself," Shemonek said.

Shemonek said he picked up the hobby from his parents — his mom collected rocks, and his dad collected stamps and coins when he was a kid growing up in the 1950s.

"My dad — he went to the bank and got $25 penny bags," Shemonek said. "We looked through them and found a lot of key coins (very rare) back in the 1950s and 60s. You could certainly find a lot of the key coins that you can't find today. Those are the rare ones that people really won't sell because it means something to them, and it completes their collection."

Fox-Wahab said value is determined mainly by the rarity of a coin even more than the age.

"A lot of people think old coins are worth a lot more than new coins, but it's always the mintage," he said. "That's how many coins they made of that certain one where they made it, how many they made and how many still exist because a lot of the older coins — most of it was destroyed or melted to get the silver and gold out of it."

Shemonek hopes to pass on the hobby to his adult children, and the same goes for Fox-Wahab, whose daughter, Maddie Fox-Wahab, is learning the trade while working at the shop over the summer.

"I've also always liked collecting stuff, whether it would be Pokèmon cards or rocks," she said. "So, it was something that worked out that he's interested in, and I'm interested in. It's been fun to learn what I have over the past month and just continue to keep learning."

For Samir Fox-Wahab, the trust he has from his customers and the relationships that form out of that trust is the best part of the job.

"I like the fact that when customers come in, they trust me if I advise them about something," Fox-Wahab said. "This trust between me and my customers is my favorite part."

"With this hobby nobody knows everything," he added. "There's always more to learn."