Not-So-Local Canadian Card Dealer of the Week: AA Sports Cards (British Columbia)
Mike Chark has spent most of his life in the sports card business. From the days of ordering through the mail all the way up to today, he is still buying collections and collecting vintage hockey. I recently caught up with Mike to discuss his business and get his thoughts on the hobby in British Columbia.
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JOEY SHIVER – Can you tell us a little about your collecting background and what led you to the sports card business?
MIKE CHARK – I bought a copy of the Hockey News in 1980 and found an ad for Cartophilium. They were one of the first real mail order card companies servicing the Canadian market and specializing in hockey cards. The owner, Andrew Pywowarczuk, had written a price guide for hockey cards. I could not believe there was an actual book about hockey cards and that they had value (this was ten years before the first issue of the Beckett Hockey price guide). I ordered that book and would call my mom from school every day to see if the mailman had delivered it yet. I can vividly recall the day the parcel came. I read that book cover to cover and back again! I had it memorized!
JS – While you don’t have the traditional brick and mortar store, you are an online and show retailer. Can you tell us a little about what you offer to customers? What type of inventory you carry and what services do you provide?
MC – While I sell cards, of course, I really think my main service to customers is as a buyer. I am trying to offer people across Canada a viable option if they have a collection and don’t know what to do with it. If someone can’t find a local buyer in their city they feel comfortable with, nor do they want to invest the time and effort required to sell their cards online or on social media, they can visit my website and watch the videos, see the pictures and read the many letters of testimony people have written about their experiences selling to me. It is hard to garner trust in this business, which is why I have put so much time into my website.
I only post real transactions, nothing made up or imagined. I try to communicate with potential sellers in terms of what they have, the market for it, the condition their cards are in, and what I think I can reasonably expect to get for it. I try to give people a ballpark amount I can pay them ahead of time but that is also entirely dependent on the description of their items’ condition. At the end of the day, I take all of the work and other factors that come with trying to sell a collection if people do not want to do it themselves.
JS – You are located near BC so you are near several hockey teams. When it comes to college and professional sports, who would you say is your “home team”? Who would you put on your sports “Mount Rushmore” when it comes to players your collectors want?
MC – The interest in college sports in Canada is an iota compared to the USA. This is a hockey mad city! I grew up with the Canucks and they will always be my team! The caveat to that is, the Canucks do not have the history of an Original 6 team. Most of the interest locally starts with the Pavel Bure years into the Sedins, and now to the Petterson, Hughes, Horvat, Boeser era. For a vintage buyer and seller, my Mount Rushmore it is Morenz, Howe, Richard, Orr, and Gretzky!
JS – As it relates to particular products, what has performed well in 2019 and what has made those products so popular? Are there any products that are on the release calendar you are really looking forward to in the next few months?
MC – As mainly a vintage buyer, this is not something I would follow. I do buy modern collections on occasion, though, and love what Topps does with its Heritage Baseball (the marriage of vintage design with current players). I wish they would continue that with hockey.
JS – Your Facebook page is active with hits, product releases, and photos. How important has social media become for you as a small business owner?
MC – In the old days, one was set with a classified ad in the newspaper and maybe an ad in the Yellow Pages. I am active on social media but find myself at a disadvantage simply because I did not grow up with it and don’t truly understand how to properly optimize it. Luckily, many of the people that collect vintage are probably in the same boat as me. We still prefer phone calls or simple emails to contact each other as opposed to texts, Facetime or Tick-Tok. I’m old!
JS – Sports card shows were huge during the ’80s and ’90s and seem to be popping up more frequently today. How prevalent are card shows in your area in 2019 and how active are you in participating?
MC – I have a long history with card shows! The first one I remember was in 1981 when I was 14. I was so excited that I had my dad drop me off at the hotel (shows used to be held in hotels) at 7 AM. I was there before any of the dealers. I also used to travel to Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa in the late ’80s. I figured out there was way more stuff back east than out west. I was a young kid and would bring back all this cool stuff to Vancouver. No one could figure out how I was finding so much stuff!
After the hobby boomed in the early ’90s, I continued going to shows. For a while, I was attending shows across Canada, from Calgary to Winnipeg to Saskatchewan. I even went to a show in Nova Scotia! These days, I still attend both Toronto Sports Card Expos in November and May. We have a very good local monthly show in Vancouver and the same promoter does a large show once a year that is an excellent event and promotes the hobby well (strongly attended, great variety of dealers old and new)!
JS – Your Facebook page says that you are always looking for collections (especially vintage) to buy. Can you talk about what you like to buy and what you look for when you get an opportunity to look through a potential collection?
MC – I try to be very upfront and honest in my dealings. I think people appreciate clear communication. The biggest misunderstanding these days for people not familiar with the hobby, is condition! Most people are confused by grading. They can’t figure out why the Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky card they have (with a crease or corner wear) does not sell for the same price as the same card does in a PSA 8. I do my best to explain to people how I would try to sell their collection if I bought it, based on what I think it might bring on the open market. I will also buy vintage cards in any shape. If someone has complete sets or key cards in rough shape, I am happy to deal in that. Some guys will only buy high-grade, which limits options for people that don’t have that kind of material.
JS – What are some of the major positives within the hobby and industry right now? What are you hearing from your customers right now in regards to the industry? What do they really love seeing from a product or support standpoint?
MC – I am continuously surprised by the strength of the new card market. Young collectors are not getting into older stuff as the lure of pulling a McDavid autograph or the hottest Young Gun RC has them hooked! As older guys get out due to age or the fact that it’s just time to sell, I hope some of these kids discover the older material and its rich history but I’m not sure that will happen.
AA Sports Cards