After driving more than 1.5 million miles in the last dozen years, making a living as a truck driver, Marietta native Eric Ford was looking for a new career direction. He ended up going back in time to an old hobby and will open a sports card store in Marietta today.
Sparky's Dugout Sports Cards is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. today in the Dimebank building on the corner of Second and Putnam streets. The store is in the bottom building corner, next to the Parking Partners parking lot. Regular hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and the business can be reached at 434-5955.
The industry had declined in the last couple decades, said Ford, but has reinvented itself with special offerings in select packs of cards and by once again producing fewer cards.
"This is going to be a real, true sports card shop," said Ford's friend Bill Gossett, owner of Cobbler John's, also in the Dimebank building. "It will be like it used to be."
Q: What will the store have to offer?
A: It will be a little different than what we have out there now. The sports card industry has changed and this is kind of a throwback.
I'll have sports cards and supplies. I have a lot of baseball, NASCAR and football and not as much basketball and hockey because they're not as big in this area. I have some special NASCAR pieces...and some rare premium items. On the supplies side, I have sleeves, rigid card holders and storage boxes, all those kinds of things.
Q: What made you interested in opening this kind of store?
A: I've kind of dabbled in this off and on for the last 25 years. In high school I virtually made a living this way. I had ads in the National Trade papers and would set up at card shows. Those things aren't really around anymore. The industry is evolved and a lot of people buy their cards on the Internet and on eBay. But there are still a lot of people who want to see what they're buying, especially something that's condition-sensitive. They want to actually hold it in their hands, look at it and negotiate a price.
Q: Do you have memories of being in stores like that?
A: There was a man in Marietta who had a store on Putnam Street in the late '80s. The industry itself was really starting to die at that time because as cards became popular they started doubling, tripling and quadrupling the numbers made, which made them lose value. But this guy had a card shop with all these vintage cards from the '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s.
My specialty is the vintage cards, which now I would consider anything from 1980 back.
Q: How did you first become interested in sports cards?
A: I was never really a collector as a kid and then I would see a lot of the kids in the neighborhood really excited about cards, like Mark McGuire, when he played for the Oakland As. I couldn't figure out why but I thought this could be something. I started collecting cards from all my favorite teams and got to where I had every card from the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Reds made between the year I was born -1969-and 1997. I had built my collection and once I was there that was it for me.
I spent the last 12 years as a trucker and was looking for a new direction and thought that I still seemed to have a knack for this. I'm good at knowing who to invest in-it's almost like the stock market.
Q: Do you think there's a strong market for this here?
A: The only investments that have really held up over the last 25 years are gold and sports cards. It's not like the 401Ks, the stock market, property investments...to this day you can still go out, open a pack of cards and pull a Jimmie Johnson autograph out of a $5 pack of cards and that's worth $200.
I want to have a store where I'm friendly to the customers, they can look at what they're buying and we can negotiate on price. I think there are a lot of people who want that.
Kate York conducted this interview..