Akin to any card collector lured by the thrill of a pull, I too find myself – on occasion – picking up a pack or two of retail product knowing the odds heavily stacked against me. Still, there’s something fun about buying lower priced packs solely for the sake of it, great pictures to look at later that day or as needed distractions at work (I have a habit of putting favorite players in top loaders against my cubical walls).
Any retail purchaser, however, knows the harsh reality of card searching, with all that product readily available for the committed. While I’ve yet to pull anything of value from dozens of purchased retail packs, I’ve ignored the searching reality and/or hot pack debate until today.
“Entry #1: Target on North Dale Mabry Avenue in Tampa, Florida.”
Consider this the first unofficial log of a proposed retail store registry containing sightings of individuals deliberately searching for packs that have potentially valuable autographs or relic cards.
Late last week, I witnessed a man guesstimated in his late 50’s, searching rack packs, blaster boxes, and any/everything he could get his hands on in expedient and deliberate fashion. He made quite a debacle out of it, with product flying everywhere, landing on the floor, and off of shelves. My wife (who graciously supports my hobby to the fullest extent) and I watched this unfold for several minutes’ time, thinking – due to the card aisle’s proximity to the registers – a store rep would confront the individual. Instead, he eventually made eye contact with my wife, quickly ceased his activities and left the building in haste.
After his departure, I checked for evidence of his activities. Nearly every cardboard box was noticeably pressed in on its sides, the rack packs jostled, and everything was left an unorganized mess. I even debated buying a box of NBA Hoops until I saw its lid that had been stealthily opened under the seal (to check for inserts).
Several minutes later, I watched two young kids wander back to the aisle, excited about the cards they were no doubt about to try and convince their parents to purchase. I felt sick to my stomach. These kids deserved better than the remnants of a card searcher looking to troll eBay.
I confess: I’ve bought my fair share of online hot packs over the years, and – while I’ve never received anything of true value – admittedly really wondered how the sausage was made. Only once did I realize this community was a fringe one when I was actually banned as a buyer in response to my not receiving the promised content type. I now feel horrible if I enabled a pack searcher somewhere.
My recent personal experience in that Target store admittedly changed everything. Seeing this in action, having the knowledge of the playing field no longer being level, knowing this likely to have gone on for years at this retail location…and who knows how many others (if this same individual patrols their aisles in tandem)…is something that needs to go away. It’s not the hot pack issue that bothers me the most; it’s unknowingly never standing a chance by receiving lesser product. The modern sports card industry is valued primarily on scarcity. While technically not purchase illegal, searched retail product is counter to everything the industry holds literally valuable.
Thus – and regardless of hot pack sentiments – I’d like to propose an unofficial registry of retail locations where product was observed being searched, to include last known incident. Retail is a unique product, and maintaining its randomness is essential to its basic tenets.
You can reach Dr. Paul Lieber at [email protected]