WAUPUN, Wis. - Recently, a special LeBron James basketball card sold for more than $2 million.
What is more remarkable? That there's that kind of market for a collectible or that a small Wisconsin town is a big player in the sports card business?
Tim Van Vooren goes Beyond the Game.
About an hour northwest of Milwaukee sits Waupun, a city of roughly 12,000 people and suddenly an epicenter in the sports cards world.
"We get people all the time who say I feel like I'm somewhere else," said Tom Kulczewski. "I feel like I'm in Chicago, or I'm in downtown Milwaukee."
Tom Kulczewski has renovated a 1930s building in downtown Waupun. It is gleaming and a sign of the upward track his business is on. All since he made a career change in 2016 when he and his wife were expecting a child, who would require extensive surgery and continuing medical attention.
"I needed really flexible hours and what is more flexible than selling baseball cards at midnight," Kulczewski said.
Selling baseball cards to anyone, at anytime is plausible in 2022.
"Baseball cards 20 years ago, every town had a couple of shops and that's what you saw," said Kulczewski. "The internet has really changed. It's changed our world, but it's changed collectibles and really sports cards, quite a bit. So you can service Hong Kong. We ship to, on an average week, 12 countries and probably 40 states, every week."
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If not insatiable, the demand is strong, both for shipping and in-person sales at the Real Sportscards shop. Lots of money is exchanging hands these days in the industry.
"People always go back to the '80's where a pack of cards was 40 cents, and you got twelve cards, and you could complete a set and a piece of bubble gum," Kulczewski said. "I ate a piece of '86 Topps bubble gum two weeks ago on a dare, and it was horrible. It was just as bad as it was in '86, so people understand that. So Topps and Panini, they still make that."
But now there's a cap on how many cards are printed. Plus, there are autographed cards or cards with bats or cards sold in metal briefcases and in Tom's inventory, Pokémon cards, as well.
"Compared to sports cards, Pokémon is really cheap," said Kulczewski. "You can buy the nicest box of Pokémon for $110. You can buy a nice pack for like four dollars. That's nothing compared to what sports cards are."
At this point, the question seems inevitable. Can Tom and the industry, as a whole, keep this up?
"As long as there are sports, and as long as there's popularity and people like you keep having jobs because people want to report and people want to listen to sports, this is a way to be connected," Kulczewski said. "To have an autograph of like, Aaron Rodgers, if you're a big Rodgers fan, having an autographed card of him, that's a big deal."