MILWAUKEE – Somewhere, in an undisclosed Milwaukee location, hidden away under lock and key, sit 7,000 small plastic and ceramic statuettes, silently waiting, nodding occasionally, pending relocation to their permanent home. Finding the right place for them is the goal of National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar, who hopes to open the museum soon in downtown Milwaukee.
“We have pretty much everything in place,” Sklar said. He and co-founder Brad Novak plan to display their record setting collection of bobbleheads, including representations of athletes, entertainers, and political figures, in a 3,000 to 5,000 square foot museum space once they find the right location.
“It is the largest collection in the world,” Sklar said, adding that Guinness World Records has contacted him about listing the collection in its book.
There is a 2-mile radius in Downtown Milwaukee within which Sklar is looking to locate the museum. He said he would like to be within walking distance of Henry Maier Festival Park, and has even considered a location at Grand Avenue Mall. He said the museum will help draw tourists to the city.
“Milwaukee will be the bobblehead capital of the world,” Sklar said.
He anticipates charging between $5 and $10 for admission and hopes to “make every day a bobblehead day,” by giving a free bobblehead with each admission.
Sklar also said he thinks trips to the museum will be educational, since many of the figurines represent political and historical figures, like Martin Luther King, Jr.
If the museum is successful, Sklar said he would hope to open a bar and restaurant on site within three to five years, offering a “bobblehead-themed menu.”
In addition to planning for the physical museum, Sklar also runs the other side of the business, bobblehead production and sales, which had revenue of almost $500,000 last year.
Many of the bobbleheads produced are for sports teams, but the Hall of Fame also offers custom-made ones.
In fact, it was their first custom-made bobblehead which gave Novak and Sklar inspiration to start the museum. In 2013, the two designed and produced bobbleheads of Special Olympics participant Michael Poll. The Poll bobbleheads were sold online to raise money for the organization. After this inspirational experience, Novak and Sklar set out to open the National Hall of Fame and Museum.
In addition to admiring Poll for his participation in Special Olympics, Sklar also knew him from Congregation Shalom, where they were both members.
Sklar later designed a bobblehead representing Congregation Shalom Rabbi Ronald Shapiro. The bobblehead rabbi wore a tallit and a special baseball yarmulke. Members of Congregation Shalom had asked Sklar to design it for a retirement gift.
“He was well-loved in the community,” Sklar said.
The Hall of Fame collection includes bobbleheads of many famous Jews, including Sandy Koufax, Albert Einstein and Mark Cuban. Sklar does not have one of Ruth Ginsberg, he said, because Supreme Court justice bobbleheads are very hard to come by.
“They’re highly sought after,” he said.
Novak and Sklar started their collection in 2002, after Novak, who worked for the Rockford RiverHawks minor league baseball team, received a free bobblehead of the team’s mascot. He and Sklar then spent several years using their vacation days to travel around the country to baseball games with bobblehead giveaways. They went to 27 of 30 major league parks, Sklar said. Between the two of them, they would get two bobbleheads, keep one and trade the other, often going online to do the trade, he said. The two also started foraging for figurines at Goodwill.
Once word got out about the museum, Sklar said people started to donate figurines. One man from Cleveland, Robert Manak, donated over 1,500 bobbleheads to the museum before he died in 2015. Others sold their bobbleheads to the museum at reduced prices.
“They wanted to give them a good home,” Sklar said.