DOWNERS GROVE – The baseball card industry is a long way from its late-’80s boom, but that hasn’t discouraged Plainfield resident Brian Jadzak from opening four Baseball Card King locations in four years, including one in Downers Grove.
Jadzak opened his first sports card shop in 2009 after he and his son had several poor experiences with rude or confrontational hobby shop owners, he said.
“Me and my son were collecting, and we’d go into card shops and they would just yell at ya,” he said. “It wasn’t a good time.”
Jadzak said he was convinced he could open a store that created a positive atmosphere around collecting.
“You treat people like people, and you don’t belittle them,” he said.
His first location was a small storefront in a Plainfield mall, where he quickly expanded into another space next door. Then came a second location in Oak Lawn, and then the Downers Grove shop last winter at 1552 Ogden Ave. He added a fourth location in Joliet when he bought a pre-existing card shop.
Jadzak hosted a grand reopening celebration at the Downers Grove store this month.
Sales had been good its first month this winter, but had since tapered off and lagged compared to his other stores, he said.
“So we changed everything around,” he said. “We revamped everything, lowered prices, kind of re-did everything.”
Brick-and-mortar card shops largely have become a relic of the pre-Internet age, and it takes a wide strategy beyond just selling packs of cards to make it financially viable in 2013. Owning four locations provides advantages of volume, he said. The buying power allows him to sell plastic card sleeves and other protective products at wholesale margins to hobby and comic book shops.
Jadzak also draws customers into his stores with regular autograph signings with current and retired athletes, and monthly drawings for prizes like Blackhawks tickets.
He also bolsters revenues by renting display cases in his stores to collectors who sell their cards on a consignment basis.
His own interest in cards renewed about 10 years ago when he began collecting with his son, who now is 20. Jadzak had been a collector in the ’70s and early ’80s, but left the hobby by the end of that decade.
At that time – the late ’80s – baseball cards were rising to their peak of popularity. New collectors saw rare, vintage cards skyrocket in value. The bubble grew as cards began to look like an investment. Unfortunately, the new cards weren’t rare.
“These companies never disclosed how many cards they were making,” said Dave Jamieson, author of the book Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession. “Because then people would have known it was a huge bubble. It was like printing money, basically.”
Jamieson said one trade magazine estimated manufacturers were printing 81 billion trading cards per year in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Cards from that era have lost most of their supposed value. Mark McGwire rookie cards that would sell for more than $100 in the ‘90s can now be had for less than $10, Jadzak said.
The hobby changed in another way in 1989 when Upper Deck entered the market, producing upscale, high-priced cards. Other brands followed suit and children were priced out of the hobby. They largely haven’t returned. And card makers now face competition in video games, the Internet and other entertainment.
“Whatever companies are left at this point are trying to figure how to bring kids back into collecting,” Jamieson said. “That’s been the problem for the last two decades.”
Most of Jadzak’s customers are men between 25 and 40 years old, he said.
Despite all those challenges, Jadzak enjoys being around the hobby, especially when people bring in cards from his childhood-era to sell.
“When I fan through those late ‘70s cards, I love it,” he said. “I’ll sort those any day. It’s fun.
“I think the hobby does have hope.”