Exactly 40 years ago, I lived for a weekly ritual. To this date, it is one of my all-time favorite rituals and one I remember most clearly.
I've told the tale before, but I'll add a little more context this time.
I moved to a new neighborhood in the summer of 1978. I was fully into baseball card collecting at the time as were my brothers. But we didn't know where cards were sold in our new place. I had to rely on some friends to tell me where I could find them and it took until the following year to perform the ritual.
Starting with 1979 Topps and continuing through 1981 Topps, Donruss and Fleer. I would walk the 10 blocks to the generic-named drug store on Washington Avenue, which was the main commercial street in town.
I remember when this Subway opened up on the corner. It was a big deal at the time. Subway was brand-new and shiny and so was the store. It's still there, but the shine is long gone. The shine's gone on the town, too.
But, anyway, we would turn the corner from Monroe Street onto Washington Street, taking a right past the Subway, moving in the opposite direction as those kids in the picture.
The drug store is a few spots up, off the left-hand side of the picture. That was our destination, once a week for at least three years.
But in 1981, two other card companies joined Topps and we wanted those cards, too. But the drug store we frequented didn't have them. They just had 1981 Topps.
Some friends of ours mentioned that Monroe Market had the Donruss and Fleer cards. Monroe Market was a shorter walk, just four blocks away. We passed it on our way to the drug store. I knew Monroe Market mostly as a place to get candy and ice cream. It was somewhat shady, even back then, and my mom didn't like us going there. But you throw out all the rules when it comes to cards.
That's what Monroe Market looks like now, a lot worse, eh? It's been shuttered for quite awhile (and, man, the streets in that town are brutal now). The store section was in the front part of the building facing the stop sign. We would be coming down the street from the south and crossed the street to get to the store. The cards were displayed in the left front part of the store across from the checkout counter. The cards and candy sat at eye-level, just below the magazine rack.
Everything was there, Donruss, Fleer and Topps.
I tried -- I really tried -- to buy as much as I could of all three. I thought I was well-equipped. The previous winter in 1981, I got a job as newspaper carrier, it was my first real job and first real income. But even that was no match for attempting to complete three sets. (15-year-old me doesn't know how anyone did it in the early 1990s with dozens of sets staring at them).
I was so overwhelmed by just those three sets that I don't remember much about other card offerings that year, aside from the Topps 5x7 glossies and the Topps stickers that were out at the time.
I don't remember seeing the Fleer Star Stickers for sale. I don't know if they were there at Monroe Market and I just ignored them (seems unlikely since I was attracted to Topps' stickers). More probably, they just weren't for sale in the few spots that I went to buy cards. The '81 Fleer stickers are known for not being as available as other card products from that year.
That's why it's taken me all these years to put my attention into them.
In my continuing need to find all cards that feature the players from my younger days, I've targeted the '81 stickers lately and have just added a want list on the blog (I am also in the process of revising my want lists to make them easier to go through, that will take some time).
Recently, Fuji sent me a good portion of the Star Stickers to add to the paltry total I've had for so many years.
I love these, because they feature my guys, but in pictures that are different from the '81 Fleer set, in most cases. That is a big selling point for someone who collected what little was available at the time and had those few images memorized up and down and sideways and backwards.
Seeing different pictures 40 years later is quite the rush.
A few of the photos are a click of the camera or two away from the photo of the same player on his '81 Fleer card, but still fun.
One thing that makes me know that I never saw these in 1981 is that I would have been instantly attracted to these kind of stickers. I have always preferred stickers that are more like cards to stickers that are stickers and stickers alone. That's because I collect cards, not stickers.
I appreciate that '81 Fleer Star Stickers have a full, 2 1/3-by-3 1/2 front and back with stats (the same stats that appear on the player's '81 Fleer card). The gum tended to leave residue on the backs but that doesn't bother me. They're more durable than your average sticker. You can peel if you like, but I never have.
Those are some favorites of mine from when I was collecting in the early '80s.
And here are some superstars that Fuji sent.
Slowly, over the years, I became aware of this set but it took me operating a blog to own some of the cards -- mostly Dodgers at first and then, sure, I'll take cards of some of those other guys. I saw them on the Game of the Week 40 years ago!
But I never had any idea that the set was so large. A sticker set that's 128 cards?!? In 1981?!?
I just assumed it was maybe 24 or 36 cards. And then as more subjects popped up in COMC searches and the like, I upped the assumed total to 60-something. When I discovered it was over 100 cards, I was floored.
Yeah, there was no way I could collect three different card sets of 600-plus cards AND a sticker set of 128 on a newspaper boy salary!
By 1982, my trips to Monroe Market and the drug store decreased a bit as I realized Donruss and Fleer were going to stay around for awhile and the dream of finishing all of them was unrealistic. By 1983, I had found a better part-time job, at a department store, far away from Monroe and Washington streets, and I didn't have the time to scope out cards like I once did.
Several days after Fuji sent those Star Stickers, he noticed that I had commented on a post on The Diamond King admiring this minor league issue card of Mike Piazza.
It's one of Piazza's earliest cards, from 1990. Fuji had an extra and he sent it off to me!
Cards had exploded way beyond three sets by 1990 and I was taking a break from card buying that year so I had no idea about minor league cards and certainly no idea about Mike Piazza.
But a year later I'd be back in the game and I had my favorite stores for finding cards then, too.
That's why stores everywhere should sell cards (well, maybe in the current atmosphere they may want to mull that over a bit). Because those stores create memories and I will always appreciate them even long after they've closed up shop and are sitting vacant in a rundown neighborhood.
Witness Monroe Market and that drug store without a name.