Two friends build hobby into serious business as sports cards hit a fever pitch

Oct 4, 2021

When Timothy "TJ" Woodward realized that sports cards were becoming more popular, he reached out to friend Doug Sicari, an avid collector over the years. It just so happened that Sicari was thinking of opening a shop and asked if Woodward wanted to join the venture.

“I said absolutely,” Woodward said Thursday at the newly opened Batavia Sports Cards in Batavia. “I’d say 99.9% of our cards are here.”

Remember when kids collected baseball cards, and they even got a bonus piece of bubble gum in a pack? That practice, which began in the 1930s, has grown up, to say the least. Sports cards have had their hot moments, including last year when people were stuck home due to Covid, Woodward said. That drew the off-and-on card collector back to the hobby.

“The attention it was getting; it was all over social media and all over the Internet. I think it was to a boiling point, and when COVID hit, it just erupted,” he said. “It’s a little bit different now than just a hobby.”

Sports cards were introduced in the 1860s, and they have ebbed and flowed throughout time, growing stagnant in the 1990s when originality went out the window and they were mass-produced, Sicari said. Some 20 years ago they took hold again, and the last decade has brought about creative — and increasingly valuable — cards with pieces of memorabilia, he said.

“Over the past five years they’ve gone up dramatically,” Sicari said. “To get distributors, you have to have the brick and mortar store. Location was the most important.”

Batavia Sports Cards had a quiet opening at the 220 East Main St. site in May, and the foot traffic has steadily increased since the owners said. All of the major sports, plus portions of others, are represented, including football, baseball, basketball and hockey, soccer, wrestling, and NASCAR racing. While many adults are scoping out the valuable cards, kids will find something too with Pokémon, base cards, and boxed collections that start at $20.

 

Sicari gave Woodward a crash course in the business, his partner said, as there’s a lot to learn. Rookie cards draw the most interest, and cards are numbered in various sequences, such as 1 to 10 versus up to 499 or 2500. Snatching up the first card in a series is a coup for a collector, and also when the number matches the player’s jersey number, such as the card numbered eight matching the jersey number of Russian ice hockey star Alexander Ovechkin. Add his autograph for another notch up the value scale. 

Other details to look out for are the production dates, extras, such as the Babe Ruth card encased with a piece of his game-used bat, and a grade, performed by the biggest grading service companies PSA and Beckett. A PSA rated 10 means “the card is perfect,” Sicari said, versus a PSA 1 being poor. 

Then there are Super and Ultra Rare cards depicting a cool-looking foil and holographic finish on the card name and artwork. These shinier cards are aesthetically classier looking and come with higher values.

Don’t worry if you’re not up to snuff in the sports card industry, because Woodward and Sicari want to help educate people interested in it. More seasoned collectors won’t be disappointed with the selection of “thousands and thousands” of cards, with more being added continuously, the owners said. They have enjoyed talking to customers, many of which want to “trade or sell,” Woodward said. 

“You get to see a lot of neat stuff walk in,” he said. "I told Doug I'd never see a Jordan ... and we had three in here."

No, you won't find those coveted Michael Jordan cards at their shop just yet; the sellers didn't end up parting with their merchandise. The owners have already had out-of-town patrons, from Williamsport and Erie, Pennsylvania, to Chicago and Texas, find the shop online while visiting this area. Despite the enormous inventory, the owners purposely mapped out the room to be user-friendly, they said. 

“We try to keep something for everybody,” Sicari said. “The idea for the shop was to keep it condensed and easy to look at everything.”

Woodward noted that this is the only sports card business in Genesee County, and the owners have no intention of going small with the operation. In fact, as they tweak the shop to expand its offerings (a website that’s in progress and more permanent hours later this month), they want to see the business boom. It has been a juggling act for Woodward, who owns and operates three funeral homes, and Sicari, who works in construction, to actually man the shop for substantial hours. They are looking to hire a full-time person, but it’s got to be “the right person,” Sicari said.

“You have to have someone who knows it like the back of your hand,” he said. 

Anyone interested in applying for the position or in buying, browsing, or trading sports cards can call (585) 483-3090, check out https://www.facebook.com/bataviasportscards or visit 220 East Main St., Batavia 4-8 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays, or noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. 

Top photo TJ Woodward and Doug Sicari have turned the hobby of collecting sports cards into a business at their new shop Batavia Sports Cards. Photos by Philip Casper

By Joanne Beck, The Batavian