Walter Grossmann had always dreamed of running his own antique business. "I come from a family of wheelers-dealers," he grins, "and I've loved rare things since I was a child."
But because of his "light to moderate" cerebral palsy which slightly affects his speech, gait and handwriting, "vocational-rehabilitation counselors advised me not to even try."
At their recommendation, Grossmann chose a career geared to helping the handicapped, and earned degrees in political science, adult education and educational psychology. In 1974 he moved from his home in St. Louis, Mo., to work with affirmative action for the disabled at the Department of Health Education and Welfare.
But antiquing remained his first love, and in his spare time he bought and sold rare objects. When he came into some estate funds in 1978 after his grandparents died, he decided to use the money to fulfill his dream.
Grossmann traveled the countryside, purchasing "communications antiques" -- books, cameras, trade catalogs and stereo cards -- easily portable in his van. He quit his job and expanded his part-time antique business to a full-time venture, selling at shows and to dealers, institutions and private collectors.
"Sure, I was a little nervous about quitting my job," admits Grossmann, 38. "Having a regular paycheck is nice. But this way I have other compensation. I get to meet people, go antiquing for rare things and handle one-of-a-kind items.
"I've sold to the curator of the White House, the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. And I've made a few really big sales, which is thrilling. I once bought a photography collection for less than $500 and sold it for $5,000."
Another advantage, he says, is less tangible. "Officially, there's no discrimination against the handicapped. But unofficially . . . Well, let's just say I'd rather be on my own. It's a fantastic feeling to be independent. This way I know that I'm making it -- or not making it -- through my own efforts."
He admits the troubled economy has not helped his business. "But if things get bad," he shrugs, "I can always sell some items."
Grossmann's advice for prospective entrepreneurs: "Take what you know and love and professionalize it. Be conservative; start part-time. Then when you're ready, take the plunge."