CINCINNATI -- Reinvention.
It’s a Baby Boomer challenge that Michael Paolercio — one of 3.965 million babies born in the United States in 1953 — has faced four times in the past 20 years.
The Bridgetown native and 1971 La Salle High School graduate was a sportswriter for 15 years, most of them spent locally, including 1990 when he covered the Cincinnati Reds during part of their last championship season.
He saw opportunity in 1994 and jumped into a new career as an agent for young baseball prospects. His mentor and partner, Brian Goldberg of Riverfront Sports Management, handled hometown hero Ken Griffey Jr., and the small company’s prospects seemed bright. Riverfront Sports managed 65-70 players at its peak, but injuries and illness ended the career of some of Paolercio’s bread-and-butter major and minor league players, and competition “exploded” as more agents entered the field. His prospects waned.
The best luck Paolercio had during the dark days to come was coordinating the Buddy LaRosa high school Sports Hall of Fame, a job he still holds, but a job that couldn’t pay all of his bills.
Reinvention loomed for a while before Paolercio settled on becoming a real estate agent. He earned his license just in time for the housing market to begin to crash in 2006. His career as a Realtor lasted for 10 months.
Out of work again, he took two part-time jobs selling shoes and educational supplies in the northern suburbs of Cincinnati. That work didn’t include paid vacations, sick pay, health insurance coverage or a retirement plan. But he worked them anyway and dug deep into an old 401k retirement fund to pay the mortgage. He kept playing the lottery, hoping to strike it big.
Little did he know that part of his next reinvention had already started. He had hung in there for several years while his baseball agent success declined. With more spare time on his hands than he wanted, Paolercio started drawing. He revived the doodling and tracing skills he had honed as a boy on days when severe asthma kept him indoors while his classmates played outside.
He enrolled in workshops offered by established artists who worked in various media: pencil, pastel, oil, acrylic, scratchboard, etc. And he got good enough to qualify for an international competition and win a local best-of-show award at a small art center where his piece is on permanent display.
His collection of completed pieces began to grow, as did a forum where he could display them: Facebook. A lot of people “liked” his art. Among his fans was an old acquaintance, Bill Burwinkel. The East Price Hill land owner and developer, along with his business partner, Bill Koopman, envisioned creating an arts hub in the working class neighborhood. They approached Paolercio about showing his art in a brick building they owned on the northeast corner of Price and Hawthorne avenues that had been a Mount St Joseph University gallery.
But Paolercio thought he didn’t have enough artwork to fill the gallery. In the days before the trio’s next meeting, Paolercio had an epiphany: He could write, he could organize, he could schmooze and sell, he understood art, and by now he knew a lot of local artists hungry for a place to hang their work. He could pull them together and make a show.
So, Paolercio offered to direct Burwinkel and Koopman’s art gallery. Two days later, they gave him the keys to The Flats Art Gallery at 3028 Price Ave. That was in November.
Now five months into the job, the 63-year-old former writer-agent-Realtor-salesman is settled in and hopeful that The Flats will be what the lottery hasn’t been: a source of success, enjoyment and steady income. He said he fells optimistic and grateful.
“As much up and down my life has gone, those two to three people have always been there to keep me going,” Paolercio said.
In the reinventor’s own words:
On being a news writer: “I got my taste of news at the Kentucky Post (in 1977). Everybody got called in to cover the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire. I thought, ‘This is not good.’ I couldn’t handle it. We were assigned to call people and ask why their son, daughter or husband had been at the supper club that night. It was grim. It was sad, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it.”
On becoming a sportswriter: “I could deal with the athletes’ egos and get past that. They’re no different than anybody else, and it was great to walk into a locker room and say, ‘Wow, that’s Johnny Bench.’"
On leaving journalism: “I could see the handwriting on the wall that newspapers were starting to flag back then (early 1990s). I think they lost touch with the community. It wasn’t journalism as I thought it should be. It had become a bottom-line enterprise, and I think newspapers, in general, are paying the price for that now. When I left, I knew I was taking a hell of a risk. But (Brian Goldberg) said, ‘Whatever happens, I’ll always take care of you.’ With that in mind, I left the paper, and he always has.”
On being a sports agent: “I was covering Xavier University basketball in (coach) Pete Gillen’s first year. We became good friends. He’d invite me to sit in on film sessions and everything. Same with (XU coach) Skip Prosser. They’d tell me that in the recruiting process, you’ve got to be frank with (prospects). I turned around and took the exact same approach when recruiting baseball players. I told them, ‘Do what’s best for you; I can’t promise you Major League Baseball , but I’ll guide you from the beginning, and so on.’ I wrote a 25-30-page book to give to parents and kids, telling them what to expect. You can’t believe how much mileage I got out of that.”
On being a Realtor: “Talk about bad timing. I hung in there for nine or 10 months. I said, ‘I gotta give it a shot.’ But you’d walk into the office of veteran Realtors who had given you advice and guidance, and all of a sudden their office is empty and they’re gone. There were no survivors from my real estate class.”
On being a Baby Boomer: “We’re all faced with the notion that we’ll never have the kind of life our parents or fathers had, that they were able to retire and ‘enjoy life.’ None of that exists for a lot of people in our generation, because so many have been laid off or worked in so many jobs. I don’t see that I’ll ever have (a long retirement). I think there are a whole lot of us like that.
“At one point … after the baseball stuff — I’m in my mid 50s — I thought maybe I’d find a (public relations) job somewhere. I put out 40-50 resumes and got one call, a phone interview. And they said, ‘We’ll get back to you and follow up.’ They never called back. There are 150 billion people in the same situation. The first thing people cut is marketing and PR. Now you’ve got all the pros in the (media) business trying to find jobs, and you’ve got kids coming out of college saying, ‘Well, yeah. I’ll take that job for $20,000.’ I can’t work for that with kids and a mortgage. (Employers) just don’t value experience and understand that it means there’s no need for training. … There’s more research being done about how (hiring experience) has a bottom-line effect on companies’ health insurance rates, that the older, more experienced person has a greater risk of being ill than someone who is 25 does.”
On becoming a gallery director: “I said, ‘I know art, but I have no idea what I’m doing as far as running a gallery goes.’ But you know how journalists are: You don’t know a stranger. So this is where I am at this point. I was able to quit my job at the supply store, at the shoe store, and make this a full-time job. It’s the first time I’ve had to answer to a boss in 20 some years. That’s weird as hell. The goal (in East Price Hill) is to turn this into an artists’ district and for The Flats to be the hub of that district. It will take a while.”
On staying with the gallery: “I will unless I hit the lottery, and then I’m out of here, baby. I’ve played it every year since I was 33. That’s a lot of numbers on my tickets. If I win, then I could be one of those art folks who goes from festival to festival for the rest of his life.”
About The Flats
Located at 3028 Price Ave., East Price Hill, it is open 2-7 p.m. Tuesday, and 1-7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Contact: 513-244-8044, www.theflatsartsgallery.com .
Its current show, “Imagine Our Spirit,” features works by students from nine Catholic high schools: Elder, Seaton, Roger Bacon, Mt. Notre Dame, Mother of Mercy, McAuley, St. Ursula, La Salle and Ursuline Academy.
After that show closes April 8, The Flats will display works by its resident artists: Jamie Anton, Ken Landon Buck, Brian M. Burt, Cedric Michael Cox, Rob Glover, Ray Hassard, Hammond, Elaine Hess, Anna Mair, Lisa Molyneux, C.F. Payne, Todd Price and Patrick Romelli.