House of cards
A small sports card shop is one of the last vestiges for local collectors.
Adam Thomas co-owns S & S Sports Cards in Broken Arrow.
At the peak of the baseball card craze of the late ’80s and early ’90s, 30-some baseball card shops were scattered around the Tulsa metro area.
Today, only one store — S & S Sports Cards — survives exclusively to serve fans of America’s pastime and to keep the card-collecting hobby available to future generations.
While owners of the Broken Arrow store Steve Burris and Adam “Tattoo” Thomas might enjoy a local monopoly in the business, they battle certain inherent challenges.
Card hobby fever reached a zenith in the early ’90s, but the card business as a whole experienced a severe downturn in 1993 and 1994.
In 1993, the marquee card company, Topps, came out with a new series, “Topps Finest,” Thomas says. It was a high-end card with a higher price point that many fans rejected. This was just a few years after several other card companies — Fleer, Donruss and Upper Deck — started manufacturing baseball cards, and the market became oversaturated.
“Then, in 1994, the baseball players went on strike, much of the regular season was lost and ultimately the 1994 World Series was canceled,” Thomas recalls. “All of this turned off a lot of fans and collectors, and they simply left the hobby.”
Not Thomas. He caught the bug early, at about age 5, and has been involved in some manner ever since.
“Back when I was a kid, there always seemed to be three or four baseball card shows in Tulsa just about every Saturday,” he says. “I would plan which ones to hit, and my mom would have to haul me all over town to attend the shows.”
Thomas’ involvement in the hobby continued when he attended Northeastern State University, where he set up card shows and bought and sold cards from other students.
S & S was actually founded in 1988 across the street from Thomas’ childhood home. He started visiting the shop when he was 11.
“The store was widely known for having weekly card auctions,” he says. “The auctions would last five to six hours and have hundreds of people in attendance. I enjoyed the buying and selling aspect.”
Burris purchased the store in 1998 after the former owner died. He renamed it S & S after his wife, Sherri, and himself. Later he asked Thomas, due to his card knowledge and expertise, to join the staff. A partnership developed into an ownership interest.
Thomas attributes the store’s longevity to meeting the expectations of a broad range of customers.
A kid with $5 to spend can leave with a handful of cards, he says, “or we can get just about any card that a serious collector might desire.”
S & S doesn’t only deal in baseball cards. According to Thomas, football cards are a major part of its business, and Oklahoma City Thunder basketball cards also have drawn great interest.
Thomas promotes the belief that card collecting can teach many valuable life lessons, such as organizational and budgeting skills. Young people can learn to respect property, since torn or bent cards lose value. And they can improve math and reading skills just by understanding the players’ statistics.
Thomas’ advice to new collectors: “Start with a player or a team you like and follow. Don’t try to collect everything at once. Just have fun.”