For a card shop in Hamilton, Ontario, it’s all about that base.
And converting those base cards into Christmas gifts for children is no trouble.
Matt and Chuck Durka have operated Breakaway Sports Cards, a 1,000-square foot shop in Hamilton since February 2013. A large amount of their business is done through online group breaks on Breakers.TV where they rip through hockey cases and boxes each night. Collectors typically opt not to have Breakaway ship the base cards pulled, and only want the autograph, relic and parallel cards in a particular product.
That left the Durka brothers with boxes of base cards left over and they decided to package the base cards into 3,200-count boxes and sell them for approximately $30 apiece (Canadian). It turned out to be a smart move when the boxes moved quickly. Instead of pocketing the profits, though, they earmarked the $4,000 they made — along with some cash they also contributed — to buy toys and canned goods, which they then donated to Mission Services of Hamilton, Ontario, a local social services agency.
So far, Breakaway Sports Cards has bought $2,000 worth of toys. Another $1,000 will be spent on toys, while the rest will be used to purchase items like diapers and canned goods for needy families.
“It’s the power of base cards,” Matt Durka said. “We see guys crack open a box and leave the base on the counters.
“People are going crazy over (2015 top draft choice) Connor McDavid,” he said. “They’ll buy a box of MVP. If they don’t pull the McDavid redemption card they didn’t want the rest of the box.
“So we said, let’s see if we can sell some of this stuff, like for a penny a card.”
After doing breaks for Upper Deck Series One hockey this year, Matt said there were 23 3,200-count boxes of base cards. In previous years, the brothers had donated cards to the McMasters Children’s Hospital in Hamilton. They had brought 10 of the boxes to the hospital, which finally told the Durka brothers that they didn’t need that many cards.
So this year, they decided to convert the base cards to cash and buy toys.
“We had all this money so we decided to do something different,” Matt said.
So, the brothers found Mission Services, whose Christmas Care program transforms its Good Food Centre into “a giant food and toy hamper program” for impoverished families.
On its website, Mission Services noted that the Christmas Care program was “our way of connecting people who want to give time and resources with those who can use a hand up over the holidays.”
More than 1,500 children benefit from the program.
Matt went to Toys R Us (“they have all the cool toys”) and Walmart and used the proceeds to buy toys for boys and girls.
“Our card shop turned into a toy store,” he said.
Matt later loaded the toys into his truck and drove to Mission Services on the morning of December 3.
“The whole cab was filled,” Matt said. “The guy at Mission Services said ‘oh, we’ll need one bin,’ and then he saw the back of the truck and went ‘whoa.’ ”
Matt, now 37, collected hockey cards as a youth. While the Toronto Maple Leafs were the closest NHL franchise located near Hamilton, he became a fan of the Flames and Theo Fleury, Calgary’s small but physical right winger.
“I remember liking their logo, with the flames coming out of the ‘C’,” he said. “I was never a Leafs fan.”
Chuck, now 32, also shunned the Leafs for another western team — the Edmonton Oilers.
“We have an Alberta rivalry in Hamilton,” Matt laughed.
As a child, Matt Durka envisioned himself as a card shop owner.
“I never sold cards as a kid, but I wanted to own a shop,” he said. “So I set up my own card shop, put cards in penny sleeves for display.”
Matt collected hockey cards through high school, and then concentrated on his studies. He was a business and finance major at Mohawk College in Hamilton and Brock University in nearby St. Catharines. After college, he worked for the Loblaws supermarket chain and then for U.S. Steel in Hamilton for six years.
Chuck, who also attended Mohawk, worked security and sold videos online before he and his brother opened Breakaway Sports Cards “on the mountain” in Hamilton. They stay active with their box breaks and keep fans up to date from their Facebook page.
Matt doesn’t collect much anymore, as the shop takes up most of his time. “Essentially what’s in the shop is not my stuff, but I get to see them,” he said.
But helping kids in need is much more gratifying.
“We try to be humble about it, but it’s nice to be able to help,” Matt said.