Inside the Pack: Back to Normal (Whatever That May Be)

By the end of March both my wife and I were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and ready to start getting back to the activities we had left behind over a year prior. For her, this meant going back to the gym. For me, this meant going to card shows and shops.

My first in-person card experience in the post-pandemic world was the first weekend in April, when I set up at the Jacksonville, FL card show. This has long been my favorite show, and I had some regular customers I hadn’t seen or heard from in over a year. I was giddy the night before and looked forward to a return to normalcy.

What I discovered was that the show was anything but normal. Due to the explosion in popularity of cards, the show was at least three or four times busier than I was used to. I arrived at 7:30 AM for a show that opened at 8:30. My table was so busy from the very beginning that I only got to walk the show once looking to buy. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t find anything I wanted. In fact, this was the first show I had ever gone to where I didn’t purchase something! It seemed there weren’t many deals to be had, except at my table. At the end of the day, I took in eight times more than I usually did an average show in 2019. I asked some of my regulars if the traffic at this show was typical of the previous few months and, to my surprise, they said yes.

A few weeks later, I attended the Orlando area card show to look around and hopefully buy. At a normal show before the pandemic, I might spend three or four hours looking at cards and digging through boxes, and generally spend anywhere from $50 to $300 (and sometimes much, much more). After a little more than an hour, I left the show having spent $18. As abnormal as the Jacksonville show had been for me as a dealer, the Orlando show was even more different for me as a buyer. So much of the focus at the show was on high-end singles, graded cards, and unopened product. There were precious few boxes of unsorted quarter and dollar cards, which is really what I go to card shows for.

Two weeks after that, I attended another Jacksonville show as a dealer. This show was much less busy than the first one I went to. I had a feeling this could be the case, as there were shows in south and central Florida that overlapped with this one. Traffic was still higher than pre-pandemic, but due to having fewer people at my table, I got to walk around and buy. The buying was so much better than the Orlando show I had gone to — there were tons of quarter and dollar boxes! It was bizarre to see such different circumstances just two weeks apart.

Next week is another Orlando card show and I have no idea what to expect. Will it be mostly high-end and wax, like I saw last month in Orlando and two months ago in Jacksonville, or lots of cheap singles, like the Jacksonville show had a few weeks ago? It’s hard to know with how quickly the hobby evolves and changes from week to week. One thing is for sure, though: it feels great to be at card shows again. Whatever the new normal may be, I’m glad it still involves shows.