Strangely, it may seem, there have been a few businesses that have seen good times during the pandemic.

One of them is the sports card businesses, and at least two new sports cards shops have opened in the Albuquerque metro area since the pandemic began.

“The pandemic brought a lot of non-collector hustlers into the hobby, to make quick bucks,” explained Jeff Latham, co-owner of one of the newest shops, New Mexico Sports Cards. “I’m not sure how bad it hurt the hobby, but it sure drove prices up.”

Hobbyists believe that during the pandemic, when many were working from home, former collectors had time to clean their garages and basements and came across their forgotten collections and wondered if those cards — or the new ones — had any value, and when they figured they did, they re-entered the hobby.

New Mexico Sports Cards, owned and run by Jeff and his son Tyler, a member of Cleveland High School’s Class of 2013, opened Jan. 2.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Tyler. “So far, we’ve exceeded our expectations.”

You’ll find it at 6200 Coors NW, Suite C-1, in the Montaño Plaza Shopping Center, on the northeast corner of the Coors-Montaño intersection, across from Albertsons and close to Coors.

Unknown to them at the time, the space they occupy also housed a sports card shop, Chris and Dad’s, 25 or so years ago, when the hobby was in its first “Boom” period and before shops had to compete with Target, Walmart and eBay for customers.

Naturally, those places can’t offer expertise and quality customer service, which the Lathams strive for.

Jeff Latham began collecting hockey cards, namely because his father played professionally, when he was just 6 years of age and living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

“Cal Swenson (1948-2014) was my dad; he played professional hockey for the Winnipeg Jets , Toronto Maple Leafs, Tulsa Oilers, Syracuse Eagles, Jacksonville Barons, and coached the Amarillo Wranglers and the Albuquerque Chaparrals (1976-77),” he recalled. “And he was a scout for the Dallas Stars.”

He said there’s a card his late son bought for him a long time ago that he’d never sell, and a few cards he won’t bring into the store, including a “1 of 3 Joe DiMaggio Flawless brand.”

The Lathams see their shop as a place for hobbyists to hang out, talk about their collections or just see what’s the latest shipment to arrive there.

In addition to sports cards, the shop has Pokemon cards — Tyler’s original go-go cards of choice — Star Wars cards and even UFC cards. And the shop has signed jerseys at close-out prices — including those of Brooks Robinson, Dave Winfield, Christian Laettner and Rafael Palmeiro — all with certificates of authenticity, which is what today’s collectors strive to get.

Right now, with the NFL postseason going on, the game’s best quarterbacks’ cards are often what shoppers seek: Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, whose cards are especially hot now.

“We understand what’s hot in the hobby now,” Tyler said, and he and his father will do their best to use their experience to help customers — and more importantly — also be fair.
From his experience, “There are places you go and leave and feel you didn’t get a good deal,” a reputation that New Mexico Sports Cards shuns, but, realistically, he said, “We are a business and we need to make money.”

He’s looking forward to baseball season, and although it’s a sport he didn’t play at Cleveland High, he played in the Mile High Little League from T-ball through Majors, all before he and his father moved to Rio Rancho and he enrolled as an eighth-grader at Rio Rancho Mid-High.

Yes, the shop will sometimes buy cards, sets and collections — mostly more of the modern sets and sealed products.

So far, he said, there hadn’t been much interest in vintage cards, although the shop sold a one of one Jackie Robinson “patch card” recently for $1,250, the top sale of the year.

“We don’t get a ton of interest in baseball cards,” Tyler said, knowing MLB is on a lockout and even in the best-case scenario, several months away from playing games.

The shop has a good assortment of baseball cards, though, and you can tell he’s a baseball fan when you go in: He likes to wear a St. Louis Cardinals cap, celebrating his favorite team; former Cardinals star Albert Pujols remains his favorite baseball player.

“We’ll treat them fairly,” Tyler vowed, admitting he only wished he could’ve paid more for some 1950s and 1960s baseball cards brought in from a guy down on his luck, hard up for the money.

New Mexico Sports Cards is open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

Sports card ‘pioneer’ passes

Area card collectors may be saddened to hear of the recent passing of James “Bubba” Bennett, longtime proprietor of Bubba’s Baseball Bullpen, which thrived on Menaul Blvd. NE in Albuquerque during the hobby’s halcyon days of the 1990s.

Baseball Nostalgia, owned by Loren Scrafford and later Bert Brown, preceded Bennett opening his “Bullpen,” first on the north side of Menaul and later on the south side of that street.

Tyler Latham shows off a Shaquille O’Neal signed jersey New Mexico Sports Cards has for sale. (Gary Herron/Observer)