07/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Memorie$ Are Made of Thi$

With just about everyone, rich and poor, slashing their spending on non-essentials in a tough economic climate, one might have expected a 16-year-old New York City pop culture memorabilia business--Gotta Have It--not to have it, that is the financial muscle to survive in such an environment.

Wrong! The retailer's three-store operation, with locations on east 57th street, Central Park South and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the Soho area, coupled with its on-line auction memorabilia business, is doing okay thank you, in the process rebounding from a slowing sales base both in 2007 and 2008.

"We seem to be back on track, retail sales are picking up at all three locations and 2009 looks like it will be a good year, considering the financial distress," says Peter J. Siegel, the 52-year-old CEO.

A big plus here for Gotta Have It was the strong reaction--$600,000 of sales --that the retailer generated at its March 25th auction of Elvis Presley items. Included was a cape and jump suit that he wore at a Madison Square Garden concert in 1972. That sold for $212,500. Other Presley items that were snapped up included a diamond bracelet at $45,000 and a $40,000 owl-faced gold ring for $40,000.

That spirited response--which surprisingly came right around the stock market's recent lows-- didn't come as any great surprise to Siegel, a prominent player in a growing $2 billion industry, who has been sourcing and authenticating for more than a decade some of the world's finest private and museum memorabilia collections. "It's clear that the buyers with their buying power and the demand are still out there, " he says.

A number of his biggest and most passionate customers, Siegel tells me include some of the richest men in America, as well as household names in the business world.

Actually, such wealth would be needed if you want to be a big-time player in the crème de la crème of memorabilia. For example, two of the highest priced items ever sold were a hand-written address by Abraham Lincoln (sold for $3.4 million) and one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence (bought by Norman Lear and some partners for $7.1 million).

Siegel suggests the memorabilia business--essentially one-of-a-kind items largely aimed at an estimated base of 250,000 to 300,000 collectors, roughly 250 to 300 of whom are hard-core--is moving aggressively into the hands of the well-heeled. Indicative of this, he notes the lower end of the market ($100 to $500) is all but disappearing, while the upper end ($25,000 to about $1 million) is still stable.

The years 2001 through 2006 were banner years for Gotta Have It, with annual sales running between $5 and $10 million, Siegel figures if he can come within 25% of that volume this year, say $4 million to $8 million, he thinks that would be an okay showing, given the current economic environment.

Actually, he thinks he has a decent shot at another banner year in 2009 after his strong Presley auction. A major reason: he has a follow-up rock and roll auction scheduled for next month, which Siegel believes could be a blockbuster because of a huge world-wide passion for rock and roll memorabilia, Among the memorabilia to be auctioned off are the actual lyrics of the song, Hard Rain, written by Bob Dylan. He expects they will fetch somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000. The auction will also include items from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

I visited the Gotta Have It store on east 57th street, which offers a variety of items for a budding memorabilia collector. If that's your goal, bring a thick wallet. Among the more unusual items are three attached old chairs from the original Yankee Stadium in their natural green color ($8,500). There is also a panoramic autographed photo of Marilyn Monroe in her 1941 junior high school class with a signed signature of her original name, Norma Jean Baker, on the back $40,000).

A couple of other noteworthy items are a framed portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt with a 1934 payroll check endorsed by him on the back ($7,500) and an original Heisman trophy awarded to Charlie White, a former running back for USC ($275,000).

If these items are too steep for you and you prefer to pinch pennies, the least expensive item in the store is a 1950 sealed box of prophylactics with a picture of baseball great Ted Williams on the cover ($550).

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Another madoff victim: Add one of New York City's leading doctors, endocrinologist Stanley Mirsky, to the list of unpublicized investors who were swindled by money manager Bernard Madoff. Mirsky, associate clinical professor of metabolic diseases at Mount Sinai's School of Medicine, confirmed being ripped off by Madoff--to the tune, he admitted of $2,047,000. He said he had learned about Madoff from a patient, but he didn't say if he was still treating that patient. The good doctor, though, was non-emotional about the loss: not so his wife, Susan, who practically howled when I rang her up: "That's nothing we want to talk about, understand."