Sports cards, vintage comics sales actually boosted by pandemic
Owning a brick-and-mortar sports cards/collectibles business is a lot like working as a meteorologist, explained Richard Rea.
“This industry is as unpredictable as the weather,” said the Whitmore Lake resident and co-owner (with his brother Mike) of A To Z Cards, Comics & Coins in Garden City. “Who ever would have thought that Funko Pops would be as popular as they are now?”
The Rea brothers have weathered some stormy conditions since opening their shop on Ford Road in 1986 – when collecting and selling sports cards was a sure-fire profitable venture.
They’ve survived the over-saturation of card manufacturing in the 1990s, the economic downturn beginning in 2008 and the recent COVID-19 pandemic to maintain their gold-standard status as a go-to hub for collectors of everything from vintage baseball cards to classic comics to, yes, the Funko Pop figures that are displayed on multiple shelves in the Reas’ store.
“COVID was actually a good thing for the collectibles market in a strange kind of way,” Rea said. “A lot of people rediscovered all their old hobbies because they were stuck at home and they had time on their hands. There was already an uptick in sports cards (pre-COVID), but it really took off during the pandemic.
“We were closed for the two-and-a-half to three months when there was a mandatory shutdown, but once we reopened, this place was flooded with people.”
An appealing characteristic of A To Z is its unchanged atmosphere. The store’s interior appearance hasn’t changed much since it opened during Ronald Reagan’s second term as President – a feature its longtime customers embrace.
“This place is kind of a pop culture island, a place where people come to escape,” Rea explained. “We all need an escape now and then.”
Rea admitted the recent trend of, um, mediocrity among Detroit professional sports teams doesn’t help his business’s bottom line.
“That the local teams aren’t doing well does affect our business somewhat,” he said. “But not entirely. If you listen to radio sports talk shows, you’ll find that people around here find a way to follow other teams if the local ones aren’t performing well. It’s kind of sad that we’re going through this rough stretch, but things will turn around.”
Rea revealed local sports fans tend to remain loyal to their favorite players, whether they retire or get traded like a certain ex-Lions quarterback to recently won a Super Bowl.
“Even though Matthew Stafford is no longer a Detroit Lion, people around here are still attracted to his collectibles,” Rea said. “If you had a Stafford-signed Lions jersey, I don’t think him getting traded would affect its value that much.”
Rea said A To Z will never go the way of virtual card collecting, a hobby that seems to be catching fire lately.
“A lot of people are doing it now and it seems like it might be a viable market but for me, I can’t quite wrap my head around it,” he said. “I prefer collectibles I can hold and see in front of me.”
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