A partner location to Tyler Santiago’s Matawan-based sports shop, the location celebrates its grand opening Saturday in the former Cup of Bliss storefront on Haddon Avenue.
By Matt Skoufalos | November 11, 2021
Although the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic brought the sporting world to a halt last year, it did nothing to dampen sports fandom.
Moreover, in the absence of live athletic competition, the hot-stove interest that typically propels fans through their off-seasons was transmuted into a rejuvenated enthusiasm for sports-related collectibles.
“Breakers” — retailers who unbox factory-sealed trading card sets in front of streaming audiences, and then sell, trade, or auction off the high-value selections within, have seen some of the hottest action of the trend.
Propelled forward by social media audiences, an array of electronic payment applications, and a wave of speculative investment in everything from cryptocurrency to traditional stocks, sports cards manufacturers have enjoyed a renaissance unseen since the market collapsed under a glut of overproduction in the early 1990s.
For Tyler Santiago of Sayreville, that rejuvenated interest was enough to grow his burgeoning collectibles business, Santiago Sports, from an online enterprise into a brick-and-mortar location in Matawan.
“COVID catapulted it big-time,” Santiago said. “In the sports world, there was nothing going on. People on their phones couldn’t bet on games, couldn’t watch games, and so sports cards became something to gamble on.
“You’re spending $500 on a box and could potentially pull a $10,000 card,” he said.
For Santiago, the goal “always was to open a card shop,” to connect in person to the audiences he’d cultivated online. Three months ago, Brad Kwintner of Haddon Township approached Santiago about the idea of merging their operations.
Santiago saw the value of their partnership in marrying his online audience with Kwintner’s access to trading card supplies, and on Saturday, they’ll cut the ribbon on Santiago Sports II, which will occupy the former Cup of Bliss storefront at 579 Haddon Avenue.
“It was two forces joining together,” Kwintner said.
“It’s simple, it’s smooth, it’s easy: buy, sell, trade.”
“I value the face-to-face communication, and you can’t do that online,” Santiago said.
“In a store, you never know what’s going to come in here,” he said.
“You want it to be a destination.”
Another advantage of brick-and-mortar sports cards retailers is that many of the major card manufacturers, including companies like Topps, Panini, and Upper Deck, only authorize direct sales of their products through retailers with physical storefronts.
Having a shop brings their business closer to the community, but it also brings the cards themselves into the business.
“Here, you want to come in and get wax (sealed boxes of cards) direct from the manufacturer, open the packs, and try to pull the best cards possible,” Santiago said. “We also have memorabilia and supplies. We want to have something for everyone.”
In addition to offering the enthusiasm and energy of an online auction house, Santiago Sports II will also leverage its former fit-out as a coffee shop to host collector events, trades, and other social gatherings.
“We have this room in the back; we want to make it a spot where people can come and hang out,” Kwintner said.
The store also welcomes customers who want to trade their cards, although Santiago also cautions that such interactions are an exercise in managing expectations.
“A lot of the people who grew up in the 80s and 90s think they have a lot of old baseball cards that are vintage,” he said; however, that was the era in which the products were most heavily mass-produced and typically retain the least value.
If you’re not sure what’s going to move, he offers a good rule of thumb: watch for the highest-profile names.
“The people we look for are the people everybody knows: Michael Jordan, Tom Brady,” Santiago said; “that stuff isn’t fluctuating too much. It all depends on the market.”
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