Even if you haven’t bought anything in a card shop for a few years or the place where you live saw its last shop shut its doors 20 years ago, chances are when you visit a new city and have some time to kill that you check to see if there’s a store nearby. We’re collectors. We’re sort of geeky that way. Sadly, it’s become almost exciting when you actually find one.
I recently traveled a couple hundred miles from home to a Midwestern city of around 70,000 and did find an open store within about three miles of my hotel so naturally, I had to go and check it out. Sometimes they surprise you with boxes of vintage cards, a huge supply of newer material and boxes upon boxes of singles. For me, it’s just fun to see what an owner is doing with his business.
It was tucked just off a fairly busy street and while there was no parking lot nearby, I found a space right in front of the door. You’re probably expecting the next line to be something about the gruff owner not greeting me as I walked in and acting like I was a bother, but that’s not true. He was an older gentleman and very friendly.
What struck me, though, is that his shop was much like those that go out of business on a regular basis. Smallish, with dimly lit display cases, mostly full of nondescript cards (the ones I could actually see anyway), a couple of boxes of sleeved inserts and autographs here and there, some newer action figures, supplies and several different unopened sports card boxes. The ones on the front counter were the latest issues. The boxes on the back wall looked like they’d been sitting there for a few years.
There was a huge stack of bubble mailers behind the counter and from the looks of it, he was spending the afternoon mailing cards out to buyers he had on eBay or some other online marketplace. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re banking on walk-in traffic these days, you’re probably a few weeks from going belly up unless you’ve got a huge customer base.
After looking around for all of two minutes, I just didn’t quite understand why this guy was messing around with a brick-and-mortar store. Rent, electricity, insurance, taxes and other business expenses mean you have to sell a lot of cards to make money, don’t you? I got the impression this wasn’t his only gig, but it seems to me that the time and money you spend on a shop of that nature would be better spent building your online business.
I’m not advocating the loss of another card shop. I’m just thinking that if you’re going to do both, you should either cut back on the eBay business, give your shop some TLC and do some more regional marketing or focus on your e-commerce business until you've got time to do the store thing right.
I also always wonder where the guys in these type of shops are getting the cards they’re selling on eBay. Are the packs I’m buying clean? This guy didn’t seem like the type but it’s impossible to know.
Collectors stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy probably spend a good part of day dreaming about owning a hobby business. I have to think that most imagine they'd do better than shops that frankly don’t paint a very progressive picture of our industry. Owning a shop isn't easy. Doing it well is even harder and that's why it needs to be treated like something other than a weekend flea market.
I root for any honest shop owner. I just don’t know how some can keep the doors open—or why.