Growing up, this wasn’t even a question. Card stores were among some of the most well-known establishments in the city.
Just like an arcade or bowling alley, card shops and cards were talked about amongst friends and family.
Shops were weekend destinations; a place where you could spend your hard-earned allowance. You got to know shop owners, attended special events like autograph signings, and took part in so much more.
Today, sadly, shops are a lot harder to come by. Both a combination of decreasing interest in cards and tech advances that make cards more accessible online than anywhere, it just doesn’t make financial sense for many to open and run their own store, pay rent, etc.
So given all of that, if you’ve been out of the collecting game for a while, or are just getting started, here are the top places you can find cards these days.
Baseball Card Shops
Well, while baseball cards shops aren’t as prevalent as they once were, there are still some in existence. Heck, there is even one Blockbuster video rental left, so you’d expect for there to be at least one card shop within 50 miles of wherever it is you call home.
Thanks to Google, it really only takes a few seconds to locate a nearby option.
- Go to Google
- Search “baseball cards” or “baseball card shops” or “baseball cards + city name”
- View what is called the “Local Pack” of Search Results (pictured below)
Alternatively, after you search, click directly to “maps” under the search bar to jump right into the local results.
Similarly, you can use Yelp as your search engine to accomplish more of the same you’d find with Google…just with different reviews and ratings if you need them.
- Go to Yelp.com
- Search “baseball cards”
- Choose your location if it doesn’t auto-populate to the city you’d prefer.
Best For: Baseball card shops are best for those who want to make card collecting more of an experience. Visiting in-person allows you to take time to get to know the product, and view and even talk through all that’s available. If you’re also wondering where to trade baseball cards, the local shop might be a good place to start.
Plus, stores usually have pretty good pack selection inventory, and of course, the cards are in-hand the moment you make the purchase.
If you want, you can even open the packs you purchase right in the store to get a little bit more info on your pulls from the shop owner or employee (just don’t let them talk you into selling your cards on the spot if you aren’t totally comfortable with doing so).
Downsides: One downside to buying baseball cards in-person at the store could be the limited selection if you’re looking for something in particular. Meaning, if you’re searching for a single card, or maybe even a particular team and you’re shopping in a city that’s not made up of that team’s fan base, you’re going to have a tough time.
Probably the second-most obvious stop along your card search journey would be eBay, and other online venues. Really, it’s insane the amount of stuff you can find on eBay, and if you search and can’t seem to find whatever it is you’re looking for, it’s a good chance what you’re seeking is pretty rare or perhaps doesn’t even exist.
- Go to eBay or download the eBay app (iTunes, Google Play)
- Search “baseball cards” or a more specific term if you know what you want.
- Look down the lists and play with the filtering to find something specific.
Some of the more useful search filters you can use to your advantage:
Card Attributes: The newer cards can be identified by a number of different attributes. From game-used cards to autographs, 1-of-1s, errors, refractors, rookies. You can use the filtering by attribute to whittle down your list of results.
Best For: In my opinion, eBay is best for those who are looking for something in particular, whether it’s a team or player, autograph, etc. It’s so easy to use the available filtering, and at the volume of cards that are made available, you’re probably going to find what you’re looking for.
eBay is also great from a pure research perspective. If you want to spend time getting to know what’s out there and what’s of value, you can’t beat eBay…It’s probably the best free baseball card price guide available, as you’re dealing with a real-time market, and can search what’s for sale now, along with seeing what has sold in the past.
Downsides: The things that make eBay good are the same things that could make things frustrating. Meaning, if everyone knows – which they do – that the best place to look for a rare card is eBay, you’re going to face competition, and thus, higher purchase prices.
And speaking of bidding, another downside of eBay is that you’re going to have to keep close tabs on the cards you want, and be sure to bid when you’re down (or even remember to bid at all).
Last, with eBay, you’re dealing with other, random people as sellers. The eBay feedback system definitely does help, but things happen, and even a perfect transaction might mean your purchase might take 3-5 days and even longer to be delivered.
Here, I’m going to lump all of the retail opportunities under one section. The physical brick and mortar retail stores that have been known to sell baseball cards include:
You might also be able to find them, albeit a much more limited selection from:
- Rite Aid
- Dollar Tree
- Grocery Stores
One big distinction between buying baseball cards from a retail store is that you’re actually purchasing a different product that what is found at a baseball card shop. Meaning, those you buy in box or pack form from retail are labeled as, aptly, retail, while those purchased from a card store are sold in hobby form.
Essentially, what this means is a retail box of 2018 Topps Series One baseball cards is going to present different odds and yield much different results than a hobby box of the same.
Generally, with hobby, you’re going to have a better chance of pulling an autograph, game-used, or lower serial numbered card. You’re also going to pay more for it. Thus, with retail, you’re less likely to pull something big, but will get more bang for your buck in terms of volume.
At the retail level, you’ll also see a lot of re-packaged items, and thus, packs that don’t really, again, present the greatest chances of a nice pull. Here is a video of one family’s trip to the Dollar Tree and buying the baseball items they could find, including cards.
Best For: Thus, buying retail is best for those just getting started and on a budget, and/or those looking to build complete base or general inserts sets. Retail is also a good option if you’re left with little else to choose from, but still want the thrill of walking into a store, buying a pack of cards, and then sitting in the car or hurrying home and busting them open.
Downsides: On the other side of that, the major downside is that you’re probably not going to pull something of value. It’s not to say it can’t happen (I remember pulling a Billy Butler Chrome RC Auto back when it had some value and thought I struck gold).
Also, and importantly, cards at retails stores are out in the open, free for anyone to sit and rummage through for hours, mishandling and “pack searching” in an attempt to locate a big hit in an unopened pack of cards. Yes, it’s wrong. Yes, it damages cards for the rest of us. And yes, it happens. If you are going to buy retail I strongly suggest buying sealed, wrapped boxes, and even with that, be sure to examine them closely before buying.
Some love Craigslist (my step-dad), others aren’t too fond of it (me). But, if you’re looking for cards, you can definitely turn to the online classifieds to score some (and free baseball cards, too – sometimes – at that).
Similar to the options above, all you have to do is simply go to Craigslist.org and use their search and filter features to find someone’s stash of cards up for sale.
Best For: Craigslist actually tends to yield some of the best “scores” if you will. Meaning, while there isn’t usually a ton of volume of baseball cards being posted for sale, those that are posted will typically be made available by those who want a quick sell or don’t have the patience to list on eBay, etc. That’s to the buyer’s advantage, allowing you to find and even negotiate better deals.
Also, if you’re looking to make a big splash with your collection and buy in bulk, Craigslist is a great option. Most of what you find will be high-value singles, or whole collections posted by people who are moving and want to get rid of some things, or parents who have had kids move out and have left their cards behind, and more.
Downsides: For me, one of the main downsides of buying baseball cards on Craigslist is the unpredictability—and I mean that in a few different ways. One, as mentioned, you never know if any cards are even going to be posted, and when, and thus you’ll need to check back often.
Then, from there, if you find something, you might only connect with the buyer a percentage of the time, where with an in-person visit to a card store or on eBay, you’re pretty much guaranteed a transaction if you want one.
Last, you might even get to the point of agreeing to meet up with the seller, but then they bail, or, you arrive and they demand a higher price than what was agreed upon previously, trying to take advantage of the fact that you’ve already made the trip. And then finally, to go along with this point, you have to physically go out and meet a stranger to make the transaction, which isn’t always the most comfortable activity for some.
OfferUp & Similar Apps
Of the newest entrants in the peer to peer buying/selling game is OfferUp and apps like it, which there are many. You can think of it as a hybrid of eBay and Craigslist, where you get the online marketplace functionality of eBay, but the “meet-up” and potential unpredictability of Craigslist.
To get started with OfferUp:
From there, the process usually goes a little something like this.
Send an instant message to the seller to let them know you’re interested or to ask a question. You’ll then, hopefully, hear back from the seller, letting you know they accept your price or to propose a new price (or to let you know the item has been sold). Once you’ve agreed on the price, you’ll meet up a la Craigslist to complete the transaction.
Best For: I’ll use the points above for Craigslist to lay out the pros and cons of buying baseball cards on OfferUp. Thus, OfferUp is best for those looking for a good deal. All of the same info on that point applies here, and then some, as there are usually more cards to be found here than Craigslist. OfferUp also offers a much, much better user interface and experience, making buying through the app pretty enjoyable.
Downsides: Again, like Craigslist, there is a lot of unpredictability. But, no pain, no gain.
Think of Nextdoor as a subset of Craigslist, but with better UX, and, being a little bit more predictable given you know for a fact you’re dealing with people in your immediate neighborhood.
Not known for being a buying and selling platform, there are a number of benefits to signing up for Nextdoor outside of baseball cards. I encourage anyone who wants a better pulse on things going on in their immediate neighborhood to give it a shot.
From there, the process mimics Craigslist and OfferUp, where you’ll typically arrange a meet-up to complete the transaction.
Best For: Really, Nextdoor is best for those not actively looking for cards. Meaning, use the app because it’s a good app for other reasons, and if you see someone post that they have baseball cards for sale, then cool.
Downsides: There simply isn’t going to be a lot for sale on Nextdoor, so it’s definitely something to check into every once in a while, versus what you could do daily or even hourly on a platform like eBay. Also, for whatever reason, I’ve found people to be a little more rigid with their prices on Nextdoor. Not sure why, and could just be my own personal experience.
I love the flea market. It’s really what got me into collecting as I’d take regular trips with my dad, who was an art and antique collector. Even as a kid, I found some really great deals of the flea market…
Not sure of the flea markets near you? This site helps.
Great For: Flea markets are great for those looking for a deal, yes, but for me, the flea market was so much fun because you really just had no idea what you were going to come across. Boxes, bags, bins, etc. There is stuff everywhere, and you really have to have a keen eye to sport where cards might be hiding (and sometimes in hiding spots unbeknownst to even the seller themselves).
At the same time, flea markets are great for those who have the time and patience to sit and sift and dig. That goes for the activity of looking for cards at the market, and then also taking them home when digging through your loot. Meaning, you’re usually going to come across heaps of cards, often unorganized in those boxes, bags, and bins. You never know what you’ll find in such a setup, making things all the more enjoyable.
Downsides: Some of the more undesirable aspects of the flea market include the fact that you’re going to have to put in a lot of physical work—walking around parking lots, football fields, etc. and stopping by each space to see what’s available. Then, once you find a box, etc. that contains cards, you’ll have go through them as well as you can to see if they are in fact worthy of buying.
You can consider the garage sale to be a smaller scale of what you’re going to experience with the flea market, and can be just as enjoyable, depending on how concentrated your neighborhood or surrounding neighborhood might be. Anytime you have people unloading their “unwanted” items to make space for whatever reason, you’re going to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiation.
Great For: Again, garage sales are great for those thrill-seeking collectors, and those who have some extra weekend time to drive around from sale to sale on the hunt for treasure. And as mentioned, you can find a good deal, with patience!
One other good thing about the garage sale when you compare it to the flea market is that those putting on a garage sale are doing so as a once per year or maybe twice per year endeavor. So, you’re seeing the “best” of what they have to offer.
Compared to those selling at the flea market, they might be out there doing so every week or every month, depending on the flea market’s setup. Thus, their stash may be picked through by the time you get around to checking in with them.
Downsides: One thing that I didn’t mention as a plus for the flea market is the concentration of sellers all in one place, within walking distance. Thus, with a garage sale, unless it’s a block sale, you’re only going to get a fraction of the opportunity. The other downside is that the early bird definitely gets the worm, with some buyers who don’t mind invading the driveway of a soon-to-be garage sale, hanging around and trying to score the best stuff before the advertised start time.
Last, but certainly not least, thrift stores like Goodwill are known to produce a nice little pick-up from time to time. If you’re thinking to yourself that you’ve never seen baseball cards at your neighborhood Goodwill, you might need to search a little harder. Then, if you locate them once, there’s a good chance that’s their “spot.” Meaning, each of the stores around me seems to display them in different parts of the store, but when they have them for sale, are in those specific spots.
Some places I’ve seen cards in thrift stores:
- In a glass case near the registers with the “high-end” items
- On the top of clothes racks with other random toys
- On a big wall filled with smaller “dollar” items; usually in ziplock bags
Thus, you just have to locate them in your store, and then from there, it’s a matter of checking back regularly to see if any more are in stock.
Great For: Thrift Stores are good for those wanting a thrill of going to a flea market or garage sale, but with a little more structure. In terms of findings, you’re apt to see a lot of late-80s, early 90s junk, but you might also stumble across something worth taking a risk on, or a flat out good buy.
If I had to rank my “scores” and where they were found, the thrift store is a steady third behind the flea market and garage sale, putting it above online options like eBay, etc.
Downsides: The other downside is, while a store might be offering cards, I’ve seen a few who simply have no regard for how those cards are handled and displayed. Thus, you’ll see cards packed and crammed in boxes or bags. Maybe they were donated that way, but oftentimes I think it’s the store is taking loose cards and putting them in a bag, etc. for easier selling.hard
What are you waiting for?
While cards aren’t as easy to find these days, there are still plenty of options available.
And, for me at least, a lot of the thrill in the hobby is tied up in the hunt, and most of these card resources offer some type of “hunt,” where you really have to get creative and constantly think about “I wonder if there are cards in there” or, if I were a mom on eBay selling my son’s collection, of which I know nothing about, what terms and phrasing would I use in the listing?
Any thoughts, comments, or questions? Would love to hear from you below, or feel free to get in touch on a more “official” note. Best of luck!