Importing Mexican Minerals for Decades

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Top Gem Minerals, one of Tucson's longest standing Wholesale Warehouses, has been serving the community with minerals both common and rare, of all ranges of price and size

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A short History of Top Gem

By Mike New

In 1991 Norma and I started Hilltop Minerals when we lived in Tio Rancho, a suburb of Albuerque.

In December, 1993, we moved to Tucson found a house, moved our inventory into half of the brick building which is now where we have our prep and shipping area. I left for a buying trip to Mexico. I got back in time to prep my purchases for the Tucson show. We then invited Rich Whiteman of Red Metal, Rod and Helen Tyson and the Boston Miners to join us for the Tucson show of 1994.

That year our income from Tucson sales was about $30,000.

We then formed a verbal partnership with Joe Kielbaso of Gemini Minerals and we changed the name to Top-Gem derived from hillTOP-GEMini and I had a lawyer form us a subchapter S Corporation in the state of Arizona, with me as president and Norma as secretary/treasurer

The owner of the building at 1201 North Main ran a cleaning and maintenance business on the building at the north end of the lot. After a couple years, they needed the building and gave me 30 days to vacate. The was a building that was an old truck terminal for a defunct freight company. It's the building one block north of our prep warehouse on the southeast corner of Main and Mabel. It was filthy and the walls of the warehouse portion were dark brick which sucked out any light that came in.

So we washed the floors, walls and ceilings, which I later painted using 50 gallons of Navajo white. Norma washed all the windows in and out, had new carpet installed in the office and new tile, commode and sink. We put up those shelves we like and stocked them. I invited Tysons' and Red Metal to join us during Tucson. I figured with a variety of different goods we would draw a bigger crowd of buyers; which is what happened. Later Danny Duke bought all that city block so we paid rent to him. We sold out of there for five or six years.

Meanwhile. we rented a building from the city of Tucson which was located on 6th Street just east of the TEP building. There were holes in the flat roof and the place was filled with junk. We brought in a 10 yard rolloff dumpster and filled it twice. But it was huge - about 16,000 sq.ft. and cheap at $235.00/month. Later on the city fixed the roof but for a year we had to cover everything with rolls black plastic.

I had always thought that the best of all worlds would be a large lot with a stand alone building and then a series of storage units where a chosen group of vendors could set up and sell during the Tucson show; then, when the show was over they could lock and close the doors and leave.

One day, I called Howard Schlansker and told him that the entire city block was a available. The only thing not included was the building and lot where the Elk's Club now sits. The price was $275K. Howard liked the idea so that same day I took a check for earnest money and signed an interim agreement. There was a liquor store on the corner of Oracle and Plata. There was a nice house on the corner of 11th Avenue and there were several buildings scattered here and there on the property. Someone early on had run a business of providing spaces so people could come from cold weather areas, drive down to Tucson dragging their airstream trailer or similar and stay there all winter. There was even a post office. We had to do a phase one environment and since they discovered asbestos, we had to do a phase 2 environmental, so another company demolished the buildings according to OSHA regs. There were other trials and tribulations, but 18 months later we moved into our present facility. Howard wanted the vacant lot left for use as a parking lot for the show.

Norma passed away. Joe Kielbaso wanted to get bought out. I had to come up with about $300,000. So. Top-Gem was mine. It is still a subchapter S corporation. I own all the shares and am an employee of Top-Gem.