The trading card business was not exactly thriving in November 1995 when workers arrived one morning to see Fleer, once a heavyweight of sports cards, roped off and locked up. Fleer had closed its Olney factory after more than 65 years.
Years ago, Philadelphia was a hotbed for producing sports cards, but the silver letters — “FLEERS GUM” — near the corner of 10th and Somerville is all that remains from a bygone era. Fleer blamed their decline in business on labor strife in professional sports, causing them to move their candy production to Mississippi and turn card production to outside contractors before the business was ultimately sold.
But, now, nearly 30 years later, the trading card industry is stronger than ever. The industry spiked during the pandemic as collectors rediscovered their passion during a time when they were largely stuck at home in quarantine.
Topps, the industry’s leading card company who bought Philadelphia’s Bowman cards in 1956, is now worth $1.3 billion.
The cards are no longer made in Philadelphia, but the ones that were produced here — like Michael Jordan’s iconic rookie card — are now hot commodities. And there’s plenty of spots in the area to buy cards. Here’s a look at some of the best spots to buy sports cards in Philly.
Bill Mason scored a Pete Rose autograph when he was five at a Bensalem card show and immediately became hooked on collecting. Mason started his business 25 years ago by selling packs of cards in his father’s convenience store, but it quickly grew into its own store. Now, he brings former and current athletes to his Northeast Philly shop for autograph signings, and has an expansive selection of cards and memorabilia. On the shop’s Facebook page, find weekly auctions of cards and memorabilia, and detailed information about all of their coming events.
Jim DeCorso didn’t just benefit last year from the spike in trading cards, but also from the spike in the ski business. DeCorso’s Delaware County shop doubles as Media Ski & Snowboard, an industry that saw a spike during the pandemic when people were looking to get outside during cold days. When asked why he combined winter sports with card-collecting into one store, he notes that they’re “just two things I have an interest in, they’re really not related.” As far as the collection, Media Cards & Sports has vintage cards dating back to the early 1900s, in addition to the newest selections.
Carl Henderson opened his collectibles store in 1995 when the industry wasn’t so hot, which caused friends to question his decision. “Well no better time to find out,” Henderson said, and more than 25 years later, his shop is still going strong. At his shop, find a great selection of cards and memorabilia, or stop by for an autograph signing: they’ve hosted roughly 1,000 athletes for autograph signings over the years.
Steve MacKenzie calls his store “one of the oldies” — it opened in 1989 and is still going strong. They have an inventory of 2.5 million cards and cater to collectors who are trying to build complete sets. Knuckleball specializes in vintage cards from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s and has cards dating further back than that. They carry current sports cards as well. MacKenzie bought the store in 2010 after the founder and his friend, Milt Wenhold, died. “I’m doing something I love,” MacKenzie said. “And they tell you that if you’re doing something you love, you don’t really have a job.”
Brother and sister Steve and Heidi Gerber opened Sportscard Playground in 1996 and have become Bucks County’s go-to card store. The store specializes in selling boxes of sports cards and carries everything from baseball cards to soccer cards to Pokémon cards. Their events are known to draw in crowds, like their annual August event for National Baseball Card Day.
This Voorhees Township card shop sells everything from baseball and basketball cards to MMA and golf cards. “Everything that Upper Deck, Panini, or Topps puts out, we sell,” said owner Evan Israelsky. The store is about 90 percent cards (the majority of single cards are sold through eBay) and the rest of the space is for memorabilia. Israelsky has been in the business since he was 12 years old and opened his store in 2011. The last year, he said, has been crazy. “So much more traffic, so many more people getting involved, it’s been good.”
Suplex has been selling sneakers and streetwear on South Street since 2013 and opened a card shop around the corner earlier this year as the card industry boomed. As one of the city’s newest spots, Suplex is super hip and geared towards millennials who have recently gotten back into the hobby. They offer packs, boxes, and single cards, and also hold breaks and raffles that can be found on their social media accounts. Suplex will also buy your cards.
Baseball is king at this downtown Haddonfield shop. Owner Tony Conte said the store has $3 million worth of vintage baseball cards dating back to when cards were printed in cigarette packs and $800,000 worth of cards featuring current players. While baseball cards are the main part of the collection here, also find a selection of basketball, football, and hockey cards, along with Pokémon and Magic: The Gathering cards.
Randy’s Sports Cards
How busy is Randy Rothrock’s shop? “Busy,” he said with a laugh. The current demand in the sports card industry means Rothrock is busier than ever, and even had lines of people waiting outside when he was operating under limited capacity because of the pandemic. He said he’s been through plenty of ups and downs with his card shop but “it’s finally paying off for me.” The shop, which has been in operation for 26 years, sells cards and memorabilia, but cards are the current top-sellers as the market spikes. Cards are available at the Quakertown shop and are also listed on eBay.
📍585 S. West End Blvd. #6, Quakertown, 📞 215-536-7868, 🕑 Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Joe Lange said his store in Bridesburg sells “a little bit of everything,” with inventory including sports cards, Pokémon cards, uncut sheets of cards, Star Wars figures, and vintage jerseys. Opened in 1991, Lange said his shop is “just a mom and pop store.”
📍2612 Orthodox St., 📞 215-288-9468, 🕑 Wed.-Fri., 1 -6 p.m.