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PALM LATITUDES

PLAYTHINGS : In the Cards

June 18, 1995|Andrew Asch

Wandering through a cavernous warehouse in an industrial section of Walnut, hundreds of people are prowling for the perfect trading card at the perfect price. Teen-agers in basketball jerseys, jeans-clad moms toting toddlers and businessmen in blazers check out the boxes of Fleers and Topps and Upper Decks, cards for every sport, looking for the deal their local retailer can't make.

This gathering of hundreds of buyers and dozens of independent vendors is a regular event Wednesday and Saturday at the Frank & Sons Trucking warehouse, and it's raising brows and perhaps driving down prices in the $1.5-billion trading-card industry. "It's the most important weekly card show," says Bob Brill, former publisher of Trade Fax, a trading-card industry magazine. Its success, says Brill, has influenced others across the country to open similar shows. It's also made some retailers wary: The 30% to 40% discounts on new products available here have lured many savvy customers away from retail stores.

Yet many local merchants have stands at the show because Frank & Sons is where the business is. "Stores can only have so much stock, and Frank & Sons has a lot of variety" says Ron Lee, 40, a teacher in Temple City. "It's also cheaper than a store and you can do some bargaining here."

Frank & Sons owner Frank Zamarripa Jr. was once an avid card enthusiast. Since starting the show six years ago, he has stopped collecting cards and now concentrates on McDonald's memorabilia.

"Collecting cards," he says, "has become too much of a business."

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