Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Excited hockey fans snap up first 10,000 Jets plates

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Fifteen years after Verna Wiebe bought her husband Roy a split-window Chevrolet Corvette, she found the perfect accessory: a Winnipeg Jets licence plate.

But not just any licence plate.

Verna found "the needle in the haystack" -- WJ1963 -- the year his Corvette was made.

"I can't even explain it to her," said Roy. "She's not a car girl or a Jets fan, but it's the coolest thing to me that the number of the plate matches the car."

After dialing different insurance companies, Verna was at the Autopac broker Monday at 7:45 a.m. The dealership opened at 9 a.m.

Verna was one of many Winnipeg Jets fans lined up outside Autopac dealers across the province Monday, hoping to be among the first to get the new Jets plates that are flying off the shelves.

So far, Autopac has blown through the first 10,000-plate run.

"This is an early Christmas present for myself," said Sal Garofoli, one of the first customers to pick up a Jets plate Monday morning at Saper Agencies Autopac Insurance. "I pre-ordered the plate and have been waiting for this for a month."

He's not alone.

Zivan Saper, manager of the McPhillips Street Autopac location, said close to 80 people are on the waiting list to get their Jets plates and he expects even more will walk in.

"They were waiting outside the door for me this morning at 9 a.m.," he said. "We hit (our order of) 50 right away.

"When it was first announced and people got wind of it Nov. 15, I got texts at home saying, 'Put me on the list.' "

With 20,000 vanity licence plates being produced, customers who aren't on the waiting list should be covered, though the plates have already sold out at many locations across the province.

"We sold out in under 30 minutes and had to put in another order this morning," said Jennifer Serra, an Autopac broker at One Insurance on Main Street. "Everyone's desperate for them. If we had more, we would have sold them easily."

Serra added that 11 other branches she spoke with all sold out within two hours.

According to Manitoba Public Insurance, Winnipeg Autopac brokers received an initial shipment of 50 plates, brokers outside the city received 40 and rural locations got 10.

Late Monday, at least 100 brokers had already ordered a second shipment.

Fans can purchase the licence plates at any Autopac agent for $70, with $30 going toward the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation, the NHL team's charity.

Although regular passenger vehicles qualify for the plates, commercial trucks, motorcycles, mopeds and all other non-passenger vehicles do not.

For Jets fan Joel Greenberg, a commercial fisherman and season-ticket holder from Gimli, these restrictions were a huge disappointment when he visited his insurance agent early Monday morning. Although he was on the waiting list, Greenberg was told upon arrival he didn't qualify.

It was the first he heard of the restrictions, but he bought the plates anyway.

"I was depressed. I felt like a fool because I went in there with all my Jets gear and walked out unable to put the plate on my truck."

According to Autopac spokesman Brian Smiley, specialized licence plates are reserved for passenger vehicles only and the rule falls under the Highway Traffic Act. It was stated in the news release and well advertised, he said.

But Greenberg claimed he wasn't told about the restrictions when he called his insurance agent originally and feels MPI "dropped the ball."

"I don't understand why I would be excluded from supporting my hockey team," he said, adding he's negotiating with his vehicle insurance agent. "I'll try to get through to them. If not, I'll have to drive the wife's car as much as I can, because she's got the plates.

"As it stands, I paid $70 to put the licence up on my wall."

So popular is the coveted car accessory that when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers issued their vanity plates last June, petty theft was an issue. Jets plates may also be a target.

Peter Rolsky, a manager at Fountain Tire on McPhillips Street, suggests installing tamper-proof nuts to deter possible theft.

"They have a centre-locking pin inside and are a flat head, so you can't grab it with anything," he said. "You need a special key, so you can't just grab them with a pair of pliers or anything. These should deter (thieves) a bit."

Two packages of two bolts will cost about $10, Rolsky said.

laura.beeston@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2011 B1

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