Last week, I posted on Facebook and Twitter that I thought the baseball card shop might be making a small comeback. In case you missed the italics, let me repeat the word "small". No one is suggesting that they're going to start popping up in every neighborhood like they did in the late 1980s and early 90s. That ship left its port a long time ago.
I can tell you that I have noticed more articles in the mainstream media about small shops opening in the last month than I have in any similar period in the five years this site has existed. The stories were in small town papers and larger ones in various parts of the country.
These aren't large stores. Often times, it's a collector/dealer who has more inventory than he'd like and a little bit of extra time so he finds a reasonably priced lease and opens the doors.
I see a couple of possible reasons for a little bit of optimism.
Number one...the rise of social media has connected us like never before and created an easy way to garner local buzz and publicity. While you can still order online or bid on eBay, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social tools generate a new desire to connect with like-minded people. A lot of people are searching for fellow collectors or someone to buy from in their area. The new media also means that businesses can now advertise for free. There's no charge to jump on Facebook and create a fan page. There's no cost to get on Twitter and search for collectors in your area. You can make a YouTube channel with a video camera, a computer and a couple of hours. If you can write a paragraph or two you can start blogging. The local newspaper, if it's small enough, might even let you in their pages for free if you promise to write a column a week.
You have to work at it...and at some point the store owner has to probably do some paid local advertising but for the most part, it's much easier than it was ten years ago. One card shop I saw on Facebook was doing a Groupon. A stroke of genius that is sure to bring new people into his shop.
Secondly, the generation of collectors who were kids when sports cards were the absolute hottest pasttime going are now grown up. They're in the 30s now, some with kids of their own. We all try to re-connect with our childhood on some level and I know that collecting brings back great memories for those 1980s and 90s kids, even if their collections didn't pay their way through college as so many of their parents believed. If they love their old cards for what they are and not for what they're not, chances are some of those 80s and 90s kids are going back and finishing their sets and maybe collecting what they couldn't afford as 11-year-olds.
Finally, the huge number of card shops that have closed since the years of gross overproduction might have thinned the herd a little too far. Many cities with more than 100,000 people have no store in their area. To those who know how to do retail and aren't afraid to diversify, that's an opportunity.
Sports cards and memorabilia still make headlines, too, which helps keep the naysayers away who think the entire hobby is dead. Case in point: Derek Jeter's 3000th hit/home run ball.
Smart business people realize that they might not be able to carry strictly cards and autographs to make a living, even if they plan to turn that card shop dream into reality. It's still tough out there, but the headlines lately seem to indicate that it's not impossible to make a go of it.