In today's age of swipes, clicks, and taps on smart screens, collectors can navigate through the world wide web like a knife thru hot butter to find their hobby needs. It's easy, fast, and you don't even have to leave your parents basement to do it. But for some of the older, die hards like me, there is nothing better than being able to walk into your local card shop and plop down on a stool or a chair and talk hobby talk. Back in the day, it seemed that every town had a shop or some small hole in the wall gathering spot where card enthusiasts could find refuge and rub elbows with other collectors to pass the time. As time passed, these locales woud start to dry up like an August riverbed in the middle of the desert.
Unlike many on here, I have been very fortunate to have a hobby shop that has endured the eb and flow of the hobby tide over the years. My shop owner has been in the business since the mid 80's in an area that has lived on cardboard like many might live on pizza and beer. He has relocated a few times over the years, but with every move, he has found a way to sustain with the ever changing hobby. As is the case with everything, age starts to take its toll and you start to slow down. Well, that "age bug" finally has caught up with my LCS. I was on break from work Thursday, and decided to stop in to my guy's place to see how he was doing. He greated me with some smart ass comment like he always does.....something that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside....like Norm or Cliff at the Cheers bar. It seemed to be just another day in paradise.....it SEEMED.....yeah.
As I made small talk about the relentless heat and seemingly bone dry weather we have had lately, I could tell something was a little off with him. I normally do a once over to make sure that everything in the shop is in order. Wax stocked on the shelf, cards under glass, supplies, Becketts, the "we kill packsearchers" sign up on the wall. Yep, everything seemed in order. But I still felt that something was wrong. He didn't have that sly glint in his eyes that he normally does. I asked about his wife, and how he was feeling. He's been dealing with some stuff over the past handful of years that have set him back a little but he's always managed through it like a champ. I've always worried about him over doing it but he recently hired a part time guy that has a pretty good wealth of knowledge in the hobby and I thought that might offest some of his workload and allow him to focus on home and keep some of his stress levels down. As I said, something was off that day. He said, sit down, I need to talk to you. Oh boy here we go.
As I parked my rump on the not so comfy stool that I always seem to find when I go visit, his head slumped a little. I asked him if he was feeling alright and he just kind of made a half answer of "yeah, I'm ok". I asked him if I needed to do the heimlich maneuver on him or if he needed CPR(fire department humor coming through). I asked him if he had been eating any spicy peanuts or if it was gas that was bothering him. He picked his head up and said, "I'm closed on Saturday". It didn't really seep into my brain what he said. I just responded with "ok, I guess Daniel(the new guy) must have something to do that day and you are tied up with family." Then he said, "no, I'm closing the doors for good on Saturday." WHOA!!!!! Wait a second. Cue the Ron Burgundy "that escalated quickly" memes!!!! My ears perked up and my jaw started to dangle a little......what do you mean???
He proceeded to tell me that he had received an offer from the owner of our other local shop(albeit a newer shop) to buy him out. This other shop made an offer a year ago, but the timing wasn't right and the deal fell thru. He wasn't ready to deal then and I wondered, as did the other regulars, if he was gonna be buried in his coffin within the walls of his long standing cardboard refuge. Well, that answer came Thursday. I sat and listened quietly as he explained his reasoning for taking the offer the second time around. I asked a few questions and of course offered encouragement for his decision as I know the last five years have really taken their toll on him. In the end though, I felt like I had been gut punched. It all seemed so surreal. "This guy has been here for 30+ years. He can't close now! The hobby is as alive and well as it has been in many years! He can't close!!!!"
I got a call from him today asking me to stop by. When I went in, the shop walls were different. The feel of it was different. The other shop owner had been by to pick up all of the wax boxes and many of the higher selling open boxes of packs from the shelf. Wendell had taken down all of the personal effects he had decorated with over the years. The place was taking on the same disorganized look that it had a few years ago when he first moved into that location. I asked him how he was holding up and that I noticed that the new owner had been by to move some things over to his place. He said that it was all happening so fast but that the new owner wanted it that way. He had told me that he was going to be open until the end of the month, but today turned out to be his last day of operation. He said he would be around over the next week or so cleaning and helping with the inventory transfer, but today was the last day he would be "the card shop guy".
You're probably wondering why it has taken so long to write all of this when it could be summed up in one sentence of "local cardshop falls victim to the times and closes forever". This situation, however, touches my heart and will forever stay with me as long as I live. This shop has been as much a part of my life as my aunt Tilly or my career or whatever. I've had great memories, trying times, cried, laughed, and experienced all kinds of things as I've mingled with the patrons at this shop over the years. You could say that it has been my Fortress of Solitude over the last three decades. Just ask my wife. I sometimes think she thinks I have spent more time there than at home(I kid honey, I kid). In all seriousness, this place has just been so special over the years and I hate to see it go. I hate to see him go. He has been like a father figure to me. Even when we've had our ups and downs, its always just seemed like family. Like home. And I'm sure gonna miss the place and miss him.
Going forward, I urge anyone that has a local shop nearby to support it as much as possible. Take in the memories, enjoy the moments, and never take for granted that things won't change because they surely will at some point. Enjoy the shop talk, the cameraderie, the big moments of pulls and trades, and never look back. Show your shops the support they deserve. I know that I am still fortunate to have another local shop to go to if I chose to one day, but it still can't replace the seemingly thousands of wonderful times I've shared with Wendell and the guys at his shop. I gave him a pat on the back and a handshake and thanked him for providing a refuge for all of us collectors over the years. I even said I'd help him move stuff out if he needed an extra hand. As I left, that front door slammed for the last time. The end of an era, but a WELL deserved retirement. Good luck my friend.