Rich’s Ramblings: Good, Bad and Ugly of Card Shops

by Rich Klein

After talking about Lud Denny, and getting some really good war stories from Bill Barron, we’re taking these ramblings back to a place also real close to my heart: The Hobby Store.

Our ramblings have taken us on many places during these past few months, but a very underrated aspect of the hobby is the local card store. This weekend, I was interviewing a young lady for possible admission to my alma mater. As an FYI, we are required to have these alumni interviews at public places. In the course of the last 15 years doing these interviews, I think I have probably had them at least 100 Starbucks.

This specific interview was held in a Starbucks attached to a Barnes and Noble book store. Since I actually wanted to see if the 2012 Hardball Times Baseball Annual was available for sale, I sashayed around the store looking for the sports section. Apparently, Barnes and Noble is now putting its sports publications near the back corner of the store. Because I was too stubborn to ask for help and also enjoy wandering about, I discovered that books are almost becoming less important than calendars, collector card games, educational children’s games and even the CD section in the back.

After that, my mind wandered to how card stores have/have not changed for almost 40 years. The earliest card stores I went to were almost all devoted to early cards, with an occasional yearbook or program as the collectibles. There are even some card stores, which still look the same as they did in the 1980’s. One good example of that is my old friend Steve Ruskowski, who owns and operates Steve’s Baseball Cards in Teaneck, N. J.  This description of Steve’s store was applicable in 1983, 1997 and even today in 2011.

In fact,. at one point Steve had a photo montage on his wall of leading collectors/dealers who had been in his store. Before I left for Texas many years ago, Steve took a photo of me and placed said photo on his wall. The last time I was in the store about seven years ago, the photo was still there. I suspect the photo will continue to be there until he closes up shop. Steve’s shop is perfect for Steve, and his collectors appreciate he is the same today than he was when the store opened. As an aside, Steve and I used to play in the same APBA dice game league.

On the other hand, there is the high-tech world of Burbank Cards. I have not seen the recent iterations of his business but rest assured, Rob has the most organized inventory known to man. Rob’s inventory is insane, this was his most recent post about the volume of cards: “We currently have 33,667,596 cards on this site of which 1,645,073 are unique! Our staff loads nearly 1 million cards per month to the site so check back often.”

Some collectors complain about Rob’s prices, but there is something to be said for being able to purchase just about any card you would ever want. Besides, there is a really cool Italian restaurant down the block from his old location. I knew every show trip to LA would result in at least one good meal. I used to tease Rob that one of his old employees had the ONLY job I ever wanted outside of my Beckett job. I think he is now nearly at the 20 employee mark and counting. Just an amazing inventory. Rob will usually tell you that he learned everything from his dad who would yell at me if he saw the state of the desk my computer is sitting at.

Somewhere in-between these two stores are most of the rest of the stores I have visited in my life. One great advantage of working for Beckett Publications during the 1990’s was taking show/store trips. These ramblings began as a way of talking about stores, in fact in one trip to Phoenix in 1991 I went to 11 different stores in six hours. On that trip it helped to have a man named Randy See, who was a friend of First Base’s Wayne Grove, giving me the guided tour in his vehicle. I do not think I ever went to that many stores on other trips, but there have been hundreds…some better than others.

One store in Austin, Texas had a review which went like this. “I walked in, wandered about for 20 minutes, walked out without the manager (who I later found out was the owner) speaking one word to me.” Another review of a comic/card store went like this. “Nothing exceptional, Beckett magazines on front rack, pimply-faced kid behind the counter spent the entire time while I was there tying to make time with the cute blond who was  also behind the counter.”

There were, of course, many really good stores I went to and we’ll talk more about them in future ramblings. However, while wandering around Barnes and Noble, I really started to wonder if the card store future is in selling cards or just using cards as a way to bring people in or as an added profit center. If Barnes and Noble can adjust to a life with books as a less important part of the store and mainly in the back, can card stores do something similar?  I’m anxious to find out.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]