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Bad behavior

 
This is the last card that I pulled out of a pack that I bought off a shelf at Target.
 
Will it be the last card that I pulled out of a pack that I bought off a shelf at Target ever?
 
Today is the final day that Target will sell baseball cards -- and football, basketball and Pokemon cards -- at its stores, according to a statement from Target itself. Random stores may still sell those cards but in general Target's policy now is to only sell them online, saying it is temporarily suspending in-store sales.
 
It makes sense. Target made this decision after a childish display at a store in Wisconsin in which four grown men got into a fight over sports cards and one of them ended up displaying a gun before arrests were made.
 
Kids and guns. I hope their moms are happy.

I've gotten to the point where I don't have a lot of hope for the future when it comes to common decency in public. The fact that grown-ups don't know not to do this and that it was trading cards that got them to this point tells me there is an epidemic of people being raised in barns.

I blame Target's decision mainly on the bad behavior of consumers. People shouldn't have to line up once a week to buy sports cards, as they have been doing for weeks, anyway. They should be able to walk into a store, casually enter the card aisle, and purchase cards from a decent selection of inventory, basically what I was able to do between 2006-19.

But bad behavior led to the lines and the empty aisles. More appalling than the fact that people were filling their carts to the brim with card product was that there were people angrily justifying their behavior with seemingly not a conscious thought that they were defending the worst "out for myself" attitude that I have seen in the hobby in more than 45 years. This is the only question I need to ask when I'm wondering what I am doing is correct: "Am I being kind to my fellow human being?" If those flippers had asked themselves that question once, Target would not be suspending in-store card sales.

That doesn't absolve card companies though.

This is a problem I saw coming long before the pandemic hit.

When I returned to the hobby in 2006 and I was figuring out where I could buy cards, I was amazed that the only place I could find them was at Walmart (this was before Target came to our town). It stunned me. What kind of strange world is this where I have to go to this one, giant store and stand in one giant line to buy a few packs of baseball cards?

When I was a kid buying cards in the '70s and '80s, I bought them at multiple drug stores. I bought them at corner stores and convenience stores. I bought them at delis. I bought them at gas stations. My mom bought them at grocery stores. I remember somebody buying some at a shop inside a hospital once. I bought a pack at a bicycle shop, at a record store, at a sporting goods store. Sure, we bought them at department stores but we bought them at book stores, too. Even into my late 20s, I found cards everywhere.

Basically, anywhere you could buy candy or gum, you could buy sports cards. And we knew: if we were in a store where there was candy, we'd better damn well look to see if there were cards, too.

I don't know when all that disappeared. Obviously it happened when I wasn't collecting.

I understand that a lot of those stores don't exist anymore, you don't find a lot of corner stores these days. But there are plenty of shops that could still sell cards. And if you could find cards at multiple stores, it would certainly cut down on the race to a single store to consume product. Step up production a bit, increase distribution and you won't see fights or lines at Target.

I don't know the economics of production or distribution, my guess is cards migrated from every store on the street to only Walmart and Target because Topps and the other companies wanted to control the distribution, they found it easier, more profitable, it cut costs, whatever the reason. But when you narrow the pipeline, you're going to have a bottleneck eventually. That's just common sense. Also, whatever happened to getting as many eyes on your brand as possible? If someone can see "Topps" everywhere they go, isn't that good for business?

Another issue that's led to this problem is the lottery mentality of current sets. This has been going on since the mid-1990s and as someone who collected long before that mind-set was common, I've been suspicious of it all along.

This is not realistic but: If cards today did not include inserts or parallels or hits or even rookie card logos, nobody would be clearing shelves or fighting over cards. Yeah, probably sales would plunge rapidly, you can't put the genie back in the bottle and all that. But somebody like me, who collected happily all through the '70s and '80s and early '90s without any lottery-type card to be found, would be just fine with a set of pure base. A set of just 660 or 792 cards to collect? That's all I want.
 
So card companies are also to blame for slowly, incrementally creating this monster. It took a pandemic and a lot of bad behavior to put it in plain sight to everyone -- and to Target -- but we've been headed in this direction for awhile.
 
I stopped going to Target to look for cards a couple of months ago. It was pointless and I didn't like seeing the "cards available at customer service" signs that were popping up online. Even over the past couple of years, I had cut down on my card purchases at Target and Walmart quite a bit, mostly because I didn't like the cards.
 
But all you have to do is read the first 8 or 9 years of this blog to know how important card visits to Target were to me. It was the lifeblood of my collection and I couldn't imagine back then that they wouldn't be available. I was the only one in the aisle! Nobody else cared! The thought of a ransacked aisle would have been ridiculous.
 
So, that makes me sad for that time. 


The last cards I bought off a Target shelf before I found the 2021 Series 1 cards was a box of 2020 Topps Chrome Update that I was startled to see. But in a reflection of how much card buying has changed for me and how the blog has changed, I never bothered to show off these cards. I didn't have anything to say about them. 2010 night owl can't imagine such a thing.
 
Some people think this is the end of retail card sales. I don't. Sure, more cards will be sold online in the future. But this flippers mentality won't last (taking cards out of stores will help) and we will return to the days of people laughing at us for playing in a kids' hobby again. Cards have been sold in stores for nearly a century. Give it a couple years or more but it will happen again and the cards will come back to stores.
 
Just like the junk wax era that we laugh about now, we'll laugh about this.
 
But I still won't be laughing about how people think it's OK to brawl in public over a trivial thing like cards. It's a shame we can't buy cards in Target anymore. It's more of a shame that people behave like this.
 
Be kind to your fellow human being.
 
It's our only hope.

Comments

It is disappointing that cards aren't more widely available. Target's announcement makes that problem even worse. Wish I could still go to a gas station and get cards.
Zippy Zappy said…
Great post (I like the raised in barns tag you made just for this lol). I agree with a lot of the points you made, and while I know that this insanity won't go on forever (the bubble will burst and Rome will fall), I do wonder if this hobby (and honestly a lot of niche hobbies) are doomed to this cycle of just people thinking they're valuable every few decades. It's like engrained in our culture and psyche when this stuff supposedly has value when a lot of the time it shouldn't and doesn't.
John Bateman said…
Its funny 2-3 years ago - I thought they would stop carrying card because they were not moving the product. They were selling blaster from the year before for 1/2 off all the time. Blasters and Factory sets would sit there until they were put on sale. This is a crazy time
simpson said…
well said. the bubble will burst, of course, but goddamn why can't we consider our fellow human beings?
Fortunately I haven't had to witness any of this idiocy...just the empty shelves. My only interaction with a flipper has been being asked outside my LCS to buy a box of Magic cards because he had reached his limit of 1. I declined.
Unknown said…
Concur 100% - Bob - ["abide" on SCG, Freedom Card Board, TCDb, Blowout]
Tom Robak said…
Well said, the current situation is deplorable. I had seen the article that Target was backing down on selling cards and about unruly behavior but not guns. I think that the problem is both not enough product to go around and too many different products. I can’t keep track of them all, I stopped collecting for sets a decade ago. My collection is autographs, so I only buy singles to get signed. Maybe someday we’ll laugh about the current mess, but that won’t be any time soon.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Yup agreed with everything you said. Card companies have been fine-tuning the product this direction for decades as has retail in general. Was totally going to happen at some point…
Fuji said…
Crazy times. Looking forward to the day when we will look back and laugh. Sure hope we don't have to wait too long.
Excellent post - indeed be kind.
Jafronius said…
Went to the Target close to work last night and saw the sign. They also have the checkouts programmed for only 1 pack per transaction, so I chose the $10 Heritage hanger box over the $1 Opening Day pack. I read up on the policy overnight. It's real sad it came to this and it's the whole "one bad apple" mentality. I wonder if the other retailers, including Walgreens, will follow suit. And when this is over, we may all look back, I won't be laughing.
Matt said…
As always a well thought out and well written post. I'm going to miss those casual walks by the card isle at Wal-mart and Target. Those packs were my reintroduction to the hobby, and there isn't anything quite like opening a pack and not knowing what you'll find.
GCA said…
I'm all for capitalism and everything, and the manufacturers and stores have to do what they have to do, but otherwise, when it's just about money, you know it's doomed.
When people say it's a problem "in the hobby", I don't think that's quite accurate. It's really an invasion of the hobby by outside people trying to make a quick buck who have no other attachment to the products. The "hobby" should just be people who like cards and appreciate the nostalgia and fan connections to the game that they inspire. These other selfish pigs are just getting in the way of real collectors enjoying cards for what they should be. And look where it got them... Thanks for screwing up our hobby, you scumbag jerks.
Jeremy said…
I worked in retail management for years. I predicted Target's decision ages ago. I'm a card collector, and if I managed a retail store, I absolutely, 100% would never, ever, ever want trading cards sold in my store, ever. The margins are low and the theft is high, and customer problems are even higher. Never, ever, ever, ever. I can't imagine Target's operations division wants anywhere near these products again.

In my mind, the issue is the boom compared to scarcity. I think the scarcity is artificially created by the leagues and player associations limiting the amount of brands that can be produced and giving out exclusive licenses. It seems to me this was the case because of the bust in the nineties due to overproduction. I think they can lift some of the exclusives, and allow more licenses. For instance, MLB could allow Panini a license. NBA could certainly give Topps or Upper Deck a license, as Panini is clearly unable to keep up with demand of basketball cards. There can still be limitations on the number of brands made, but it's possible at this point to start opening up licensing again.
Nick said…
I know very little about business, marketing, etc., but to me Topps just doesn't seem like a very well-run company. There's so many production and distribution issues, and they seem to happen regularly. All this definitely could've been avoided.

I'm sad about Target not having cards anymore, but I don't blame them one bit. You can only with so many stories of people being assaulted and/or harassed. Also my dad earns (or, earned) part of his living stocking cards at Target, so that adds an extra layer of anger over all this.
steelehere said…
Great post. It’s sad when Target (and Walmart) have to pull product off of their shelves because of people acting like idiots.
bryan was here said…
I'm not surprised. It's also happening in the diecast realm as well. I was grocery shopping at Wally's Discount Emporium today and I always hit the Hot Wheels/Matchbox aisle before I check out. Today's stop involved an older gentleman rifling through the Hot Wheels base models. Since I have the ones I want from the base set, I went over to the specialty models. I found three I hadn't seen yet and picked them up. The old man went down there right after I grabbed my cars and proceeded to cuss under his breath. I'm like, too bad. Not like I bought all of them, just the ones I need. I always leave something for the next guy,no matter what it is.