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The Death of Local Card Shops: Can Fanatics Save the Hobby or Will It Destroy It?

Before the days of Instagram, Facebook, Whatnot, Discord and even before the buzz of Fanatics, the local card shop was the heart and soul of the card collecting hobby. For many, these shops were more than just retail spaces; they were the epicenters of childhood memories, community interactions, and the thrill of the hunt for that elusive card. My husband and I have experienced the full spectrum of what LCS have to offer – from the wonderful to the downright dreadful. Despite the mixed experiences, we cherish the moments spent in those little stores, and our own children now share that same excitement.

But are local card shops headed the way of Blockbuster, overshadowed by the convenience and reach of online giants? Fanatics, the new powerhouse in the trading card industry, boldly claims they can grow the hobby tenfold. Yet, their actions suggest a different story, one that might spell the end for small card shops.

Local card shops have always been the cornerstone of the hobby. They’re where many of us learned the ropes of trading cards, built lifelong friendships, and found solace in a shared passion. On family vacations, visiting a new card shop was as exciting as any tourist attraction. These shops are woven into the fabric of our childhoods and continue to play a vital role in how we introduce our own children to the hobby. This issue was recently highlighted in episode 139 of Cagelawyers podcast, titled "Can it all fall apart? you bet it can!” Cage spoke about his LCS and their current struggles in the face of Fanatics' dominance. The episode underscores the sentiment that many LCS owners feel: Fanatics is not just a supplier but a direct competitor, threatening the very existence of small card shops.

Fanatics' aggressive expansion and control over the card market bring several potential benefits but also numerous challenges for local card shops: Fanatics' direct-to- consumer approach means that they can bypass traditional distribution channels, including LCS. This allows them to maximize profits and maintain tighter control over pricing and availability. However, it severely limits the ability of local shops to compete, as they often cannot match the prices or availability offered by Fanatics. The new distribution policies have made it difficult for many LCS to obtain products. Shops that previously relied on regional distributors now find themselves cut off and though they are doing everything right are denied a direct account with Topps. LCS with accounts are sometimes required to buy less desirable products just to get their hands on more popular items, tying up capital in inventory that doesn’t sell. The 30-day rule exacerbates this by restricting dealer-to-dealer transactions, further limiting the stock that shops can offer. With tight profit margins and the inability to set competitive prices, many LCS are struggling to remain viable. The restrictions on pricing and forced product purchases mean that shops can't make enough profit to cover their costs, let alone grow their business.

To survive, many LCS might need to adapt by diversifying their offerings beyond just sealed wax. This could include focusing on singles, hosting events, and offering group submissions for grading services or other hobby-related activities. Building a strong community presence and offering unique in-store experiences can differentiate them from online retailers. Collectors who value the personal touch and community aspect of local shops can support these businesses by making conscious decisions to purchase from them, even if it means paying a slight premium compared to online prices. While the landscape is challenging, there is still potential for coexistence. Fanatics could recognize the value of LCS as a grassroots marketing tool and find ways to support them, perhaps through exclusive products, promotional events, or better allocation practices.

As a major player, Fanatics has a responsibility to the hobby. Their actions can significantly influence its health and growth. While maximizing profits through direct sales is a business strategy, fostering a healthy ecosystem that includes LCS could sustain long-term interest and participation in the hobby.

The hobby is at a crossroads. The rise of Fanatics and their direct-to-consumer model poses significant challenges to local card shops. However, with adaptation, community support, and potential collaboration from Fanatics, these beloved local institutions can still find ways to thrive. The future of the hobby depends on balancing the efficiencies of modern distribution with the irreplaceable value that local card shops bring to the community.

So, as we navigate this evolving landscape, let’s remember the joy of visiting our local card shops and strive to keep that tradition alive for future generations.


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