Pandemic reignites old hobby of collecting sports cards

Dean Fuller has been the owner of Nick’s Sports Cards & Memorabilia for five years. Photo by Rory Moore/The Et Cetera
By ISAAC ALVAREZ
@TheEtCetera

It is half an hour after opening time on a recent Saturday morning, and Nick’s Sports Cards & Memorabilia shop — located in Far North Dallas — already has half a dozen customers browsing in the front room. In the back room, two employees arrange sports memorabilia on a table in preparation for a Facebook Live event scheduled for later in the day.

The shelves are loaded with boxes of trading cards. Framed jerseys and photos of players, including Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays, hang on the walls. All taken together, it is a collector’s paradise. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on some local businesses, but at Nick’s Sports Cards and Memorabilia, founded in 1989, business is booming. 

“We’ve got a nice customer base and we’re getting a ton of new customers,” owner Dean Fuller said.

The sports trading card industry has experienced a significant increase in sales since the pandemic started. Sports Collectors Daily reported in June that sales of basketball cards on eBay had increased 130%, baseball cards by 50% and football cards by 47%.

“We’re very lucky,” Fuller said. “When the pandemic hit, people dug out their collections, looked at them, brought up the nostalgia and [it] brought them back to collecting more.”

Fuller himself is a longtime collector of sports cards and memorabilia. He said it was a daily thing for his dad to bring home packs of Topps baseball cards for him to open. 

He used to bring his own sons to Nick’s, before he became the owner, to see what treasures they could find.

“We would find some duds, but we sometimes would find rare cards,” he said. “It brought so much joy and excitement pulling the best ones.”

Fuller said Nick’s did have to close its doors for a short period of time when Dallas County was under stay-at-home orders. Then they transitioned to curbside pickups.

Now that the store is open again, regular customers are coming back.

Tyler Smith, a 21-year-old collector from Dallas, recently visited Nick’s searching for a rare Ezekiel Elliott autographed card. 

“I have been watching Zeke since he was at Ohio State, so him playing for the Cowboys makes me want the card even more,” Smith said. “I usually come in between classes for a break and check in if they have restocked the boxes yet.”

Another longtime customer, Eastfield student Mike Caravero, said he comes to Nick’s regularly to see what’s new.  

“I’ve been in and out of the shop these last couple of weeks, searching for the newest rookie quarterbacks in the NFL,” said Caravero. “Coming to Nick’s shop is fun. They have new cards and events to show off every day.”

Collecting cards is a hobby that has been around since the late 1800s when sports cards were sold inside cigarette packs. In the 1930s, in an effort to attract young people, cards started being sold inside packs of gum.

Today there are different types of cards. Some are base cards with a photo of the athlete, others are autographed and or have jersey patches on the card. Some cards feature multiple players.

As a general rule, the rarer the card the more valuable it is, especially if it is in good condition. 

Cards are graded on a 10-point scale, with 10 being considered nearly perfect, or mint, condition. Beckett Media in Dallas is widely considered around the collecting community as one of the toughest grading companies. 

Damaged cards, no matter their age, are lower in value. 

Under the right circumstances a card could be bought for as little as $1 and in one year it could be worth hundreds of dollars. Rookie cards are especially valuable and have the highest potential for growth. 

A 2003-04 Upper Deck Lebron James rookie card recently sold at an auction for a total of $1.8 million.

Tristan Taylor, an employee of Nick’s and a lifelong sports card collector, said he recently sold some  Base Rookie Luka Dončić cards for $30 each and made a $400 profit. 

“There is so much upside to card collecting,” he said. “It could be just the fun and enjoyment of sports and ripping packs or the thrill of chasing a card that everyone wants and only dreams of possessing. People love sports, so as long as sports are a thing and continue to grow, so should card collectors.” 

—Harriet Ramos contributed to this report.

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