APS approaches reopening, summer show with caution
By Michael Baadke
Nearly a year after the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pa., had to close to visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the doors are being cautiously cracked open.
In a March 2 online meeting of the American Philatelic Society’s board of directors, APS executive director Scott D. English announced that starting March 15, a limited number of visitors will be allowed inside the society’s headquarters on an appointment-only basis.
Visitors will be allowed to access the organization’s extensive philatelic library and the popular circuit sales division. Everyone entering the building will be required to undergo temperature checks, wear a mask and respect social distancing.
The APS will follow the guidelines of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with regard to visitors, and all visits will be focused and time-limited.
“We do want visitors back, absolutely,” English said. “We just want to make sure that our staff remain safe and that you remain safe. So, we are going to follow the guidelines, we’re going to enforce the guidelines, and we’re looking forward to seeing your masked face back here very soon.”
About 60 percent of the APS and American Philatelic Research Library staff are now working at the headquarters building on any given day, English said, with the rest of the staff working remotely.
Turning to the subject of the Great American Stamp Show — the large annual summer stamp show and society convention that is now held in association with the American Topical Association and the American First Day Cover Society — English made it clear that whether the 2021 show takes place in Chicago as planned or will online-only like the 2020 show will be determined by the status of the pandemic and decisions made by the state government of Illinois.
The show is currently scheduled to take place Aug. 12-15 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Ill.
The convention center has been closed and will remain closed until Cook County enters phase 5 of its pandemic recovery plan, but the Illinois governor has been unclear on the metrics for meeting the phase 5 requirement, according to English.
“We’re talking about a show of … anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 people operating in Illinois,” English said. “Are we going to be able to do this inside? I just don’t know the answer to that.”
The convention center is currently canceling or rescheduling events that had been set up for April and May, English said.
Asked later when he thought the drop-dead date would be for making a decision about holding the show, English replied, “I really think that we have to know by the end of this month whether or not we’re going to be go — or no go.”
Because of the planning involved, holding out longer for the required assurances would impact the society’s ability to set up the show responsibly, English said.
APS and APRL finances
The meeting began with APS president Robert Zeigler celebrating the financial status of the APS and the library.
“I think we have a more financially stable society than ever before because of the accomplishments of paying off the debt incurred by the Match Factory,” Zeigler said, referring to the cost of purchasing and renovating the Bellefonte factory complex that now houses the society headquarters and the library.
In late December 2020, the APS made its final payment of $1.51 million on the remaining mortgage, and the society forgave a $3.8 million outstanding APRL debt from loans and interorganizational payables.
English added that the society “closed the year rather strong,” with the operational budget contributing $75,400 to net assets.
The society’s internet sales unit performed $43,500 better than the annual budget called for, but the pandemic affected circuit sales, which landed $50,500 below budget.
Circuit sales are popularly circulated among stamp club members, but few clubs were able to hold in-person gatherings in 2020.
English also said that filling vacant commercial lease space on the APS property is a top priority, and noted that “activity is picking up.”
Through Feb. 28, the APS membership stands at 27,569, reflecting a membership decline over the past 12 months of 665.
The number of new applications is ahead of where the society was at this time last year, English said, and during March the society is holding a membership promotion that offers $5 off the membership fee. Applications received during the first two days of the month showed an interest in the promotion, which is being advertised on the society’s website.
The pandemic put a different face on many of the benefits normally enjoyed by APS members, with in-person activities in the education and library areas most affected.
Although education efforts such as the annual summer seminar were curtailed, the online version of the summer program drew 1,146 registrants and generated $9,740 in revenue.
Other programs less affected continued as well, including the society’s C3a learning platform, the Stamps Teach program that provides stamps for school classroom use, and the live learning events that were instituted in fall 2020 to replace the society’s On the Road courses normally conducted at national shows.
Several live programs are already scheduled for 2021.
Library requests increased substantially. In 2020, the library fulfilled 2,503 requests for photocopies, scans, research and borrowing. Exceeded the 2019 total by 550, it was the highest amount ever received.
The APRL’s digital library recorded 5,726 unique users.
English contract extended
In its executive session before the public meeting, the APS board agreed to a contract extension for English to continue as executive director through Dec. 31, 2023.
“It has been a joy to be part of this community,” said English, who came to the society in 2015 with no significant background in the stamp hobby.
Prior to accepting the position with the APS, English was involved in the Washington, D.C., political scene as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina.
After more than five years as executive director of the world’s largest nonprofit organization for stamp collectors, English has gladly taken up the hobby.
“I am a collector,” he said, “I am now a life member of the APS, a life member of the APRL, and I’m fully committed to this hobby 100 percent or more, and I’m grateful to be a part of it. And thank you very much for your continued support.”
For more information about the American Philatelic Society, visit the website at www.stamps.org.
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