Located in the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg, Card Stadium has long been a card capital for sports, gaming, memorabilia and supplies for collectors throughout the Keystone State.
As a kid in the 1970s, Ken Hoffman fell in love with card collecting. He later fulfilled his lifelong dream of opening his own shop and along with much help from his brother Eric and others, they built Card Stadium into the goliath it has become in the region and beyond.
Card Stadium is more than a one-stop shop for customers. It’s also a master distributor for other shops and dealers in the area. If it exists in the sports card space, rest assured, they have it or can get it. Offering a breathtaking amount of sports cards, gaming cards, supplies, figures, helmets (oh, those helmets) another memorabilia, CS is truly is the definition of a one-stop card shop.
The store where I work, Sports Zone Toys & Comics, leans heavily on Card Stadium to supply us to help fill a number of our categories. That relationship has only blossomed over the years, most recently with the new brass in the building.
After decades in the card game, it was big news in our area when Hoffman decided to put Card Stadium up for sale.
The numbers put on the business were huge, somewhere in the low seven figures.
This is where Tim Traina and his team come in.
Traina, a hard charging and hard working grinder by nature, has spent a lifetime in the sports card and memorabilia business. A hobby shared with his father at the kitchen table and on the road early on blossomed into his own business called TJT Sports in Lebanon, PA. The shop built a huge online presence, including a wide range of breaks and forward thinking concepts.
Just over six months ago, Traina and his team purchased Card Stadium and added it to their growing portfolio of blue chip sports card holdings. Eric Hoffman, the aforementioned younger brother of previous owner Ken and key Card Stadium component, stayed on staff to help with the massive transition process for the new ownership group.
I made the hour trip down to Harrisburg to visit with Tim and received what was affectionately called ‘The Tony Tour.’ We also dug into his background in the industry, what his average day looks like in this new coliseum of cards, what he sees as the future for Card Stadium and the industry as a whole.
TR–I wanted to start way back in the day to the beginning of your introduction to card collecting. What was it that got you into the hobby way back as a kid?
TT-I meant to bring something from our other shop over today because I have this great picture from 1988 of me and my dad sitting around the dining room table sorting a case of 1988 Topps vending into sets. I was known as the wax kid. My dad would do singles and we were doing shows when I was in junior high.
TR–Was it card collecting early on or was it straight to selling? Did you have a collection and were there guys that you gravitated to as a kid?
TT– I don’t really remember collecting. My dad and I had a shop. He was a professor. It’s not like we had full scale but we were pretty much on the road every weekend for shows. One of my biggest memories is the Sports Collector’s Digest. Do you remember that magazine? Well, the rule in our house was he got it first and then I got to read it in order because those are back in the days where if you wanted to buy something you sent somebody a money order. Well, my biggest memory is 1989 Upper Deck. I think I had to send somebody a money order for $620 for two cases and my dad yelled at me that I was just like a big idiot. They came in right before we were leaving for a show in Mentor, Ohio. It was 1989, so I was still in high school. I remember at the end of the show waving this big stack of money in my dad’s face. I said ‘Yeah, I guess I did wrong.’ So I was the only person that had 1989 low series wax when it first released.
TR–When did the entrepreneurial spirit or itch take place? Do you remember the first time you were selling cards?
TT-I think it was kind of cool but I don’t know if I ever saw it as ‘Oh, I’m an entrepreneur.’ I’m just I think at that age is just I’m good at selling things because I would win the Christmas sales thing from school every year. I know there was one defining moment that I think was around 1994 and Donruss hockey came out and we would buy a lot of it. I started getting a bunch of the Mario Lemieux Elite cards that were the big thing back then. I had them all in a showcase and I told everybody that I wasn’t selling them and then I realized, well, that’s kind of stupid. So then in 1994 it was like I never wanted to collect anything cause I figured what I sell I can replace for less. Don’t fall in love with a card.
TR–You mentioned Western PA and Pittsburgh, who were your guys growing up?
TT-Oddly enough, my whole family was from Cleveland. We were 61 miles from either downtown Cleveland or downtown Pittsburgh on the Ohio side. I will tell you I was laying on the bed with my dad watching the 1979 World Series and that’s when I saw Willie Stargell and I said ‘I like that guy.’ and I’m the only black and gold fan in an entire family of Cleveland. Willie Stargell is the only thing that I collect today. The only thing I’m missing is an inscribed ‘Pops’ ball. I have several balls, several photos, of card runs and all that. I’m not a massive collector but if I see something Willie I will get one. I bought on my 50th birthday, I finally found the 1979 Sports Illustrated cover with Willie and Terry Bradshaw and I finally found one that Willie signed.
TR– Eventually TJT sports in Lebanon, PA became a reality. Can you walk us through the genesis of that?
TT-There was a little hiatus when I moved from Ohio to Pennsylvania in like 2000-01, where I worked full-time but this was always on the side, doing shows on the weekend, doing eBay, doing Amazon. Then it got to a point where I was doing a little more on Amazon or better at shows and finding better deals so that we can buy more volume but kind of like a segmented way. I was working in sales for a large media group and we had a mandatory sales meeting one Christmas Eve and I told my wife ‘I’m going in and resigning.’
I was a full-time employee with four young kids with no job and I took $2,500 of money out of Amazon to get more into hobby boxes and then just started from there. Each step, I think, is kind of a cool story.
If you want to put a number on it like the last year that I worked full-time I did like a quarter of a million dollars in sales on Amazon. The following year as full self-employed I did $1.2 million. With that kind of money rolling it allowed to expand into some other stuff. We had a warehouse. It wasn’t a shop or anything like that but we were basically only doing card shows and Amazon. Then we migrated into an authorized retail distributor for Topps and Panini, so we would get pallets of blasters. I can tell you on the final sale, we were buying 2017 Optic Football blasters for $7.50 at the last wave and then they went up to $30 and everybody freaked out because that was a blaster for $30. Then we started developing relationships with distributors. It was a much better world in 2014 and 2015 because if you ordered 20 cases nobody gave crap. They sent whatever you ordered.
One of the more significant things was 2018 and it was draft day. Me and a couple of buddies were doing the Boston show, so we were trucking down the highway to Boston and 2018 Bowman released that that next day. My whole van was filled with a pallet of 2018 Bowman blasters with Ohtani. I remember how insane that was. The guys from the PSA booth were coming out on every break and buying. We sold probably 800 2018 Bowman Baseball blasters that weekend.
TR– At some point, you have to make that jump to full time card guy. So what was it like making that that leap of faith and making this a career?
TT-I have the greatest wife on the planet because she doesn’t care what I do as long as she knows I’m working hard to provide for our family. Over the years, you just kind of get used to it, working seven days a week. At the time, they might not be all full days but there’s something that has to get done or you want to get done. I’m not saying there weren’t times that were pretty tenuous or shaky and maybe I had to call my mother and say ‘Hey can I borrow a couple thousand bucks for a couple weeks?’ because there’s always something.
We met Ken at Card Stadium and I’m not ashamed to say I’m pretty sure we were his biggest customer for five years in a row. It’s helping us provide more product to more people because the TJT Sports success was driven by our presence online. I am forever loyal to those customers, those guys and gals, that helped us get to that point.
We are going to be old school. We are going to stay on Facebook. We have a Tiktok account that we may use but I’m not going to grow a man bun and call everybody ‘bro.’
TR– You made huge news in this area with the purchase of Card Stadium in Harrisburg, PA. You’re no stranger to quantities and as we’re standing here in one of the multiple back rooms of Card Stadium. Can you speak to the transition of taking over this massive shop?
TT-It hasn’t even been six months. Some of the other segments to this pie…we have been doing breaks online since 2017. I had never joined a break. It was one of those trips we were on and I looked up breaks. I did a Google search. I did a break and it was a big Kris Bryant card because I remember buying the Cubs in a 2016 pick your team Topps Triple Threads. I got my package and I’ve never got the Kris Bryant card. They blamed it on their new guy that was sorting the breaks. That was when I said I’m going to start doing breaks and I’m not going to treat our customers like that. That was on a trip, I think, to White Plains that I was sitting in my hotel room and did that. Two weeks later we were doing breaks. We were doing seven nights a week.
Without having a shop, per se, I didn’t have to go into the warehouse until 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon but then most of the nights I was driving home when the sun was coming up. Then when we migrated into more hobby stuff and it was busier in shipping days then I cut it down to six days then I cut it down to five days and then I realized these two days that we’re not doing breaks, I don’t have a way to sell stuff and that’s when I decided to open up the first shop five years ago. That’s kind of going full circle from going from a full-time employee with three kids in diapers to quitting my job and then having my first shop.
TR-Card Stadium is such a massive space and undertaking. What is the average day like for you at this point in the game?
TT– I try to get here a few minutes early just so I can get through two different email accounts. The phone does not stop ringing. ‘How much is this? Do you have it?’ We always have the best price here so I don’t know why people still call. Yesterday, for example, we had two different truck shipments and three different pallets. We like to process a lot of that right away. We filled up a UPS truck on the way out. Trying to find something in the in the galleys of where you’re standing right now and turn something that hasn’t seen the light of day in years or decades, into something that might change somebody’s life when they come in and remember their childhood collecting those or possibly opening a box and hitting a Tom Brady rookie.
I’ve made this analogy a couple times. I’m working less hours than I did before we bought Card Stadium but I’m working harder like I did when I worked in a brick factory when I was in college and in summer. Now we’ve got four and a half months under our belt and like things are becoming a little easier so I’m not as stressed out but it’s still chaos in this building.
TR-What have been your biggest wins and your biggest losses so far at Card Stadium? Is there a moment that you can hang your hat on as a big W to this point?
TT-More so on a personal level, because I have a partner, I’ve never had a partner in business and I’m grateful for my partner Bob Richards, that day to day prior to this, I was responsible for every invoice making sure all the bills were paid. I’m not saying that that’s not the issue now but, personally, that responsibility is off of me. We have the nice corporation that pays the bills and I can gladly focus more on TCBing it rather than ‘How am I going to pay my kids tuition next week?’ if we have a rough stretch.
TR-As we stand back here, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the backroom in detail. This is like a wonderland for me personally. The amount of single cards, somewhat organized, is mind blowing. We did a quick tour of the place. I mean, we’re standing in the backroom of what you said would be any collector’s dream.
TT– A lot of it is overwhelming. Stagnant inventory is dead inventory. We have 15 four-row boxes, so that is about 50,000 cards per row. There are about 100 rows. How do you process five million cards? We found some really cool stuff. There is going to be a treasure in every box but these treasures will help pay the bills. It’s overwhelming. We don’t know where some of the stuff is half the time because it’s just buried beyond other piles. Rome wasn’t built in a day. This goes back a long time.
TR-What do you envision for Card Stadium over the next, say, three to five years?
TT-Whatever happens with the Fanatics deal or anything like that, we will always have a backbone. We will always be able to sell dollar cards. Our goal is to continually provide a good product at a good price with mediocre service. That was our catchphrase at TJT. We might have great prices and great products but our service is trash (laughs).
No, we just need to maintain what we are doing. We are constantly buying trying to make sure the shelves are stocked and we are bringing something new to the great collecting community of Central Pennsylvania and our online followers.