Trading card shop adds excitement to old hobby

Nick Jaspersen, left, and his dad Mike at Jaspy’s Sports Cards and Collectibles, their Hermosa Beach store. Photo

There is a decent chance that, as you read this article, people from all over the United States are logging on to their computers to watch packages be opened inside a Hermosa Beach storefront.

That store is Jaspy’s Sports Cards and Collectibles, a recently opened shop on Pacific Coast Highway specializing in trading cards. And those package openings are known as “case breaks” in the trading card lingo: a streamed experience in which card aficionados watch to find out what’s inside.

Jaspy’s is a traditional retail store, with shiny display cases and pennants on the wall, but it’s also at the leading edge of a practice that has transformed the trading card world. Case breaks allow multiple people to “buy-in” and split the price of a case of cards, which can contain varying numbers of traditional packs. Purchasers often will ask for all of the cards featuring players of a certain team. But part of the excitement is that they don’t know ahead of time what that will mean.

“There could be a $5,000 Dodgers card or a $5 Dodgers card. You just don’t know,” said Nick Jaspersen, who opened the store along with his father Mike.

The Hermosa Beach store is the family’s third brick-and-mortar card shop. Mike opened his first in Lakewood in 1982, and he has decades in the trading card business. He has worked for Beckett, which does grading and authentication of cards. In 2000, the family relocated to New York State, where he spent 14 years working for the Topps Company. He helped Topps — which like many trading card outlets traces its long history to a tobacco company — launch the website.

The internet has made things more challenging for many brick-and-mortar retailers, and trading card dealers are no exception. The South Bay once had its share, including John’s on Sepulveda in Manhattan Beach, but many sales started to move online. That included the Jaspersen family, which launched an ambitious eBay operation. They were so successful, Mike recalled, that he was invited to meet eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

But, in an unexpected way, the internet has also given new life to the trading card business. After returning from New York, Nick, then a student at Redondo Union High School, began exploring early streaming options. It took a while for the streaming case break concept to catch on, but today Jaspy’s Youtube account has nearly 8,000 subscribers, and some of its videos have been viewed more than 60,000 times.

For any given case, some of those following will have bought in and are waiting to see what their purchase will give them. But others have a rooting interest, not a financial one. Jason Cordero, who sometimes hosts the streams of Jaspy’s case breaks, said that keeping viewers engaged is the key.

“If you’re dull, if you don’t have a good personality, people will just leave,” he said.

Case breaking has become a phenomenon recognized by outlets like Beckett and the card companies. After a boom in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the trading card industry suffered an industry-wide contraction in the early 2000s, Mike said. Overproduction had caused the value of cards to sink. It responded by rolling out a new line of cards that were limited or unique. Some have stretched the meaning of what a “card” can be, and include buttons and felt from a player’s uniform, or even shavings of wood from a bat used by a baseball player.

Traditional producers like Topps and Upper Deck are also branching out into other fields. On a recent case break, Jaspy’s opened a card that featured an embedded signature from President Ulysses S. Grant. The signature is from 1876, and the card, worth thousands of dollars, is one of one.

“Things are really growing in the memorabilia and card business,” Mike said.

Cases can vary considerably in their cost, with more expensive ones more likely to contain those bits of transcendence. Topps, Nick said, just came out with a box that goes for $27,000. Case breaking, Mike said, allows fans to split up that cost and get a piece of a package they would never be able to afford on their own.

Although the excitement attached to case breaking is coming mostly online, the memorabilia boom is also helping stores with physical locations. Some card manufacturers, for example, will only release cases to brick-and-mortar outlets. And as excitement builds, some local card aficionados are heading to Jaspy’s to watch the action in person. The store layout includes a bar — soft drinks only — where people can observe case breaks. This Saturday, which is National Hobby Shop Day, the store will have specials and raffles to go with its case breaking.

So far, the store has found a local audience, as well as others who have driven from as far away as San Bernardino. The customers are a mix of serious collectors, people getting back into a childhood hobby, and kids who are just getting started. After a lifetime in the card business, Mike said, he understands what’s bringing them in.

“I wasn’t one of those kids who threw their baseball cards away,” he said.


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