Card wars have hit the South Bay.
As families deal with high divorce rates, teen-age mischievousness and drug and alcohol abuse, sports collectibles offer a "clean" hobby for children, and one that can involve the entire family.
That may be where baseball cards come in.
The all-in-the-family appeal may explain the surge of baseball card stores in the South Bay, where three shops have opened since October. But there may be more to the new-found enthusiasm in the collectibles, store owners say.
"We've been so well received by the community, it's been overwhelming," said Ian Allen, co-owner of South Bay Baseball Cards in Lomita. "Parents have literally been calling us, thanking us, saying this has really made their kids happy.
"You (parents) grasp for things you and the kids have in common. This absolutely fits the bill perfectly. We open up the packs together. We trade with each other. We have separate collections and we have collections together.
"It's a strong bond on the level other than, 'Take the garbage out,' or, 'Make your bed.' We sit down to do this and it's a whole new scene. . . . I have moms that come in, dads that come in and whole families. It's great."
Allen said he and partner David Loftin were searching for a business to involve their children when the card shop was mentioned. "My wife jumped out of the chair. She said, 'Why don't you start a baseball card shop? It's something the community needs.' " Allen said. "We'd rather have them do this than (work in) McDonald's or Jack-in-the-Box."
Most owners said the demand for cards in the South Bay is so great that they are convinced their businesses will continue to succeed.
The store in Lomita opened at about the same time as stores in Carson and Torrance. They joined a South Bay market that included Galaxy Comics and Sports Cards Etc., both in Redondo Beach, and D-J Sports Collectibles in Westchester. CNI Collectibles of Redondo Beach recently got out of the card business but continues to sell more exotic sports memorabilia, including game-worn players' jerseys and World Series rings.
Store owners agree that collecting baseball cards can be important in strengthening family relationships, but John Harmon, manager of Triple Play Sports Cards in Carson, said the hobby is booming because of broken families as well.
"Because of the divorce rate, dads are looking for things to do with their kids on weekends," Harmon said. "They can collect cards together. Dad gives son $50 and says, 'Here. Go get what you want.' "
Kevin Homel, owner of Redondo Beach's Galaxy Comics, which recently pushed up its baseball card operation, agreed that broken families have turned children to baseball cards. "A lot of single-parent families don't have parents around for the children, so they come here," Homel said.
But the business is also popular as an investment, Harmon said. "Three months ago a 1984 Don Mattingly card was selling for $25. Now it's worth $65. IBM stock isn't going up that fast," he said.
Allen boasted about recently selling a rookie Mickey Mantle card for $3,000. Kevin Kong, co-owner of the Baseball Card Mint in Torrance, says he is in business primarily to serve the investor. "There's a lot of money to be made," he said, suggesting that the hobby in the West has yet to catch up with the collecting fervor of the East Coast.
As long as businessmen and baseball fans continue to flock to the baseball card shops for profit and fun, the stores will continue to prosper in the South Bay, Homel said. "We were planning on opening two new stores," Homel said, "so (the new South Bay stores) don't surprise me at all.
"It has not hurt our business. It is still growing. I think five new stores will open in the next two years. Then it may get a little more competitive."
Like Allen, Homel said the family interest in baseball cards has been a key to the industry he says "is about to hit a boom period." Homel said parents have been appreciative of his business, too.
"We get parents saying they had kids who were total slobs. But since (the children) started keeping collections of cards, now they keep their rooms neater."
Homel said he is most proud of the influence card collecting could have on keeping children straight. "I don't know if they would have gotten in trouble (without card collecting)," he said, "but they certainly would have had lots more idle time."
And as baseball card stores continue to gain popularity in the South Bay, the owners will be counting on children and teen-agers spending their idle time in their shops.
Nadine Hummell, owner of Sports Cards Etc. in Hermosa Beach, was so confident of the baseball card market that she opened a store just down the street from Galaxy Comics on Aviation Boulevard a year and a half ago.
"It's been terrific," she said. "I started collecting with my grandson. When he got out of it, I kept going. I decided to open the store to keep me busy, and has it ever!"