I'm always fascinated when collectors can recall the name of the store they went to for their cards when they were little.
Maybe it's because they're still young, or maybe it's because they still live in the town with that store, or maybe they have excellent recall.
I, on the other hand, am not young, do not live in the same town where I first bought cards, and have the memory of six-month-old summer squash. Every time I try to recall the name of a store where I bought cards as a kid, all of my memories are orange and mushy.
But still, I thought it'd be fun if I could break down where I bought cards through my collecting life. Even if I don't know the names, it'd be like a little diary of my cardboard suppliers through the years.
These days most current cards come from one of two places -- Target or Walmart. Neither of those are going to produce many happy memories. Nothing in Walmart makes me happy. I'm even sad in the card aisle half the time. Target is much too filled with estrogen, which makes me feel alternately annoyed, grateful, and perverted. Really not a combination I want on instant recall.
So, here's to the times when you could go to the corner store, get the once-over from the graying, bald man behind the counter, and grab a few packs:
My earliest "shopping for cardboard" memories revolve around a small, green, corner store that was maybe a mile-and-a-half from my home. I didn't know the name of it then, and I don't know the name of it now. It's possible it didn't even have a name. Even calling it a "corner store" is deceptive, because the corner it was on bordered on a freakishly short, dead-end street. The street was called "End Street." How can you be on the corner of an end? It's the end!
I remember climbing the few cement steps to open the front door. The inside was everything you remember about a corner store. Just one aisle, traveling from the front of the store to the back. But except for taking a peak at the freezer treats immediately to the right, we would grab the wax and cello packs on the left, hand over our coins and go.
The store sat directly across a busy street from our elementary school, so it was a popular stop for kids. But I was only there for the cards. As I recall, it wasn't open on the weekend, which kind of annoyed me, because that was when I bought most of my cards. For those times, we would walk several more blocks down that road, until we got to a busier area of town. On the left, was a strip mall, that featured a drug store. Again, I have no idea of its name.
Many of the cards I bought later in 1975 came from that drug store. I continued to get cards from that store in '76 and '77. I think the green corner store closed down somewhere in there, because I never went back there for cards after that first year.
We moved in 1978, and I had to search out a whole new area to find cards. There was a corner store not three blocks from our new house called "Paul's Market," which was where all kids went for the usual kids stuff. I think I bought cards there that first year. But Paul's, which had been around for awhile, disappeared quickly once we arrived, and I had to find somewhere else.
The next-closest place was "Monroe Market," just a block further from Paul's. But Monroe was a little scary unless you were a guy looking to score girlie magazines and alcohol. Although the thought of being one of those guys was intriguing, the thought of trying to sneak that into the house was not. And besides, the dudes that hung around in that store were big and intimidating, and, um, kind of smelled different. So I got cards there when I was desperate (my memories of first seeing Fleer and Donruss are from that store). The cards were rightnext to the magazine rack with Playboy and Penthouse. I knew I had to find somewhere else for cards, if I still wanted to keep caring about cards.
That somewhere else became my main source for cards from 1979-82. It was a family-owned drug store on the main commerce drag in town. Three stores down from the Subway store on the corner. Again, I don't remember the store's name -- it had a very generic name -- and it sold dollar-store type stuff before "dollar stores" became a big deal. My brothers and I would walk the 2 or 3 miles there and back to get our fix.
I remember the cards were displayed on an end-cap right near the cash register. I loved how convenient it was, although the store manager probably was keeping his eye on any squirrely shoplifting collectors looking for the big rookie cards.
Later, we discovered a Greek food store that we walked past on the way to the drug store. It also sold cards, including things like early '80s Topps stickers and 5x7s, that weren't available at the drug store. We made sure to stop there, too. Have no idea what it was called.
Meanwhile, there was a CVS further up the main drag that never sold cards. I think I checked about 74 times.
I skipped over 1984 and 85 because I bought virtually no cards from a store those years. I purchased complete sets of Topps from a friend and washed my hands of collecting each of those years.
By 1986, I was in a new city, going to college. Cards were silly, baby things. If I brought cards into a bar, I would be banned for life, but not before all the pretty girls laughed at me. So I kept card purchases, especially in '86, '87 and '88, to brief visits to the drug store, usually after classes. The stores were all the way over on the other side of town -- 40 minutes away -- so there was no chance of my college buddies spotting me.
I'd stop at one drug store about 2 miles from my grandmother's. It was in a plaza with a laundromat, a diner, a pet shop, and couple other stores I don't remember. There was another drug store farther north, out in the suburbs, where I went to quite a bit. Next to a pizza place. I can't remember the names of either store, but I know almost all cards I saw at the time were in rack packs. I began to wonder if wax packs existed anymore. Rack packs were everywhere. But I liked rack packs. Who didn't like seeing the cards you were buying? The last football cards I ever bought came from the store next to the pizza place.
By '89, I was out of college and full of free time. I found another drug store, this one in a sweeping shopping mall, which was across from another shopping center, which was not far from yet another mall (if you know anything about Amherst, N.Y., this does not surprise you). I went to that store one or two times a week every week of baseball season and bought 4-6 packs at a time. Out of all the stores that I bought cards, this is the one who's name I should remember and it's a total blank. I probably went there 50 times, just to buy cards, and can't remember the name.
I had moved again, for my first full-time job. I was in the middle of nowhere, living among people whose "urnotfromhereRU" antennae are longer than anywhere else in the country. I couldn't open my mouth in a department store without 10 sets of eyes suddenly upon me.
It took me a year to get over that -- OK, I never got over it -- and get out in the world to find cards. In 1991, I returned to collecting with a vengeance and bought every card I could for a three-year period. The vast majority of those cards came from a drug store in a strip mall next to where my newlywed wife and I shopped for groceries. The name of this I remember -- it was your common variety Rite Aid.
Damn, it had a lot of cards. Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, Score, Pinnacle, Ultra, Triple Play, Stadium Club, just about anything that was available in the overproduction era. Except Leaf. Nobody ever saw Leaf.
A co-worker of mine had bought a pack of 1990 Topps when we first started working together in the spring of '90. I thought, "how quaint, baseball cards" even though it was just a year earlier when I subsisted on nothing but cardboard. That's how much my world had changed then. But that pack touched off a fever that lasted until '94, when the hobby died for me.
The dead period. Bought a couple packs in 1995. One pack in 1997. Found a few packs of 1998 Topps in a bookstore, of all places. "Aren't they cute?" I bought them. A few more packs in 2000. Couldn't tell you where.
By 2002, 2003, I was noticing cards at Walmart and Kmart. It seemed very weird. But I embraced it. The 2004 All-Time Fan Favorites set was the first modern set I had collected since 1993 Upper Deck, and I bought virtually all of it at Walmarts.
The revolution had begun. I was coming back. And cards were at Walmart.
What a crazy time '06 was.
I've detailed this before, but I bought some rack packs of '06 Topps at Walmart, and the packs advertised "3 vintage cards" in every pack. Many of the "vintage cards" were from 1993. But I'd find stuff from 1983 sometimes, and for someone trying to figure out what this modern thing was all about -- THAT WAS COOL.
Those rack packs sucked me in and I still haven't found the eject button. I made trips to Walmart twice a week for those rack packs and the vintage cards -- ah, hell, might as well collect the '06 set, too.
Then I discovered boxes of repacks. A dangerous concoction, but the newbie's got to learn. I accumulated a crazy number of 2006 Upper Deck. Not nearly as much as I have of '06 Topps, but I'd have a hard time convincing anyone I'm not an Upper Deck fan after they saw my '06 UD.
This set into motion the ritual of the last five years. Get your paycheck, and sometime in the following 3 days, figure out a reason why you absolutely MUST travel the main drag in town, drive all the way to the end, enter a store you'd never be in any other way, and find that freakin' card aisle.
I really don't like that I do this. It's not because I think retail is for suckers, or think online is the way to go, or any of that. It's just that for so many years, cards meant hitting the small drug store, waiting in a line of maybe three people, and being on your way.
Cards were part of the drug store experience. Oh yeah, I'm buying cards. You're buying some band aids, and you're buying wrapping paper.
It's never like that in Walmart or Target. Half the time I feel like I should put the cards away and instead buy a bike, or bunch of paper towels, or eyelash enhancer, or whatever. Not one other person in those stores is buying cards. No one in the drug store was buying cards either. But there were 5 people in the drug store, not 281.
This is why I still look for cards in every drug store in which I happen to be. Sometimes I get lucky. More often, I don't, and every one of those "nope" times, I'm disappointed.
Drug stores always should sell cards. I promise I'll remember your name if you do.