Hobby Musings: Bel Air Sports Cards Provides Unique Hobby Experience With Card Bar – One of the biggest challenges a card store can face is finding a way to stand out amongst its peers while also serving the needs of its customers. One store that hasn’t had that issue is Mel Lundgren’s Bel Air Sports Cards in Maryland. With their custom Card Bar, and their portable Card Bar, Mr. Lundgren has been able provide an enjoyable time for his local customer base and for collectors across the country at events like the National Sports Collectors Convention. For more on the Card Bar and why he moved to a new location, I had the chance to catch up with Mr. Lundgren. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: Mel, what made you decide to open your card shop in the first place?
ML: I had previously owned a store back in the late 80’s and really enjoyed that and over the last three decades. I stayed involved in the hobby collecting cards and doing card shows. So, when I retired in 2015, I quickly realized that I needed something to keep me busy, so I started to volunteer at a local card store. After about 18 months of volunteering, I decided if I was going to stay in the card business that I would be better off doing my own thing. I quit my volunteering at the LCS and started to look for my own location.
KS: You switched locations. What prompted that decision?
ML: My original lease in July of 2017 was for two years in a 600 SQ Ft location and within a year of being opened, we started to experience growing pains. So in the second year of our lease, we started to make plans to find a larger location that would suit our needs. At the end of our second year, we transitioned from our original location to our current 2000 SQ Ft location.
KS: How did the access to Upper Deck Co-Op funds influence your decision?
ML: The availability to work with Upper Deck and participate in the Co-Op program was a huge motivator in moving forward with our decision to relocate after only being open two years. The amount of extra financial resources necessary to remodel and relocate can put financial stress on the business, but once approved and knowing that Upper Deck was on board made the move that much more possible.
KS: The signature of your store is the Card Bar. How did you come up with the concept for it?
ML: So, when I made the decision to open the store, I wanted a place that combined the latest technology with the feel of your favorite hometown pub. I remembered when my kids were growing up, we would always sit at the bar table in our house and open packs and sort cards while watching sports. So, when visiting my oldest son, who is an architect, we brainstormed and came up with the Card Bar concept. A place that you could enjoy your favorite sports on flat screens, grab a soft drink, and sit and open wax or search through boxes of cards looking for your favorite team or players. All in a relaxing comfortable environment.
KS: It’s something you brought with you to the National. Overall, what has the reaction to it been?
ML: We have taken our portable Card Bar to the past two Nationals. The first one in Cleveland in 2018, we had some great interactions with customers and everyone was like how cool is this – customers would sit at the Card Bar and rip packs and search player boxes looking for their favorite cards. By Chicago in 2019, we had been opened longer and were doing more to promote the uniqueness of the Card Bar throughout the year. We had many customers coming by to check it out and take pictures sitting at the Card Bar. This year’s sales at the Card Bar were much higher than the first year so overall, I feel like the customers are taking the opportunity to check us out at the shows.
KS: Overall, what have you enjoyed most about owning and operating your store?
ML: For me I would have to say it is the ability to share my passion for the hobby with customers of all ages. I look forward to meeting new and experienced collectors and engaging them in their pursuit of the hobby no matter how casual or serious they may be. I want to do everything I can to provide today’s kids and families with an opportunity to experience card collecting.
KS: What have you found to be the biggest challenges of operating it?
ML: I think that the biggest challenge that I face is time management with all the different hats you must wear. From marketing extraordinaire, bookkeeper, janitor, educator, party manager, product ordering, I never know what my day will be like. I also think customers do not realize the work and hours that goes into having an organized inventory and more importantly having enough product to meet the needs of the customers.
KS: How did you originally get started in the hobby?
ML: I used to go the local corner store with my friends and back then in 1967, you could get a flat rack of six packs for 25 cents. I stayed with it for a couple of years and like most kids, I kept my cards in shoe boxes under my bed or in the closet. Unlike many of us I was lucky my Mom didn’t throw my cards away. Shortly after I was married she called me up and said why don’t you come and get these boxes of cards that I have been saving for you. So I did and shortly after that around 1979, I was getting back into collecting for myself and once my kids were born, then it quickly became a family activity while they were growing up.
KS: Besides the Card Bar, what else have you been doing to try and separate your store from other hobby stores?
ML: Along with the 36-foot long Card Bar– multiple flat screen TV’s and our eye level show cases along with the pub tables and bar seating, we have incorporated the Play Zone. This 525 square foot room is available for birthday parties and youth sport team party rentals.
The Play Zone features arcade-styled games like air hockey, NBA Basketball, Skee-Ball, multi-player arcade game featuring over 1300 games, Lego wall and tabletop board games. The room also can seat up to 24 party guests and we provide all the party guests with a complimentary grab bag of cards. We plan to use the Play Zone as a way to incorporate family fun and collecting.
KS: Overall, what do you think is the state of the hobby right now?
ML: I have been around a long time and it is great to see the hobby so healthy but I also would caution everyone to not get overly caught up in the hype and be ready to sense and adjust when you see signs that indicate a change could be coming. That is one of the reasons why I decided to set aside some of my square footage for the Play Zone Party Room.
KS: In your neck of the woods, which athletes are the most popular with collectors right now?
ML: Locally, Lamar Jackson, Marquise Brown, Adley Rutschman and Trey Mancini, along with chasing the national names like Mike Trout, Zion Williamson, Patrick Mahomes and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
KS: What are your hopes for your store in the future?
ML: My hopes are that we continue to do the following; educate, engage and provide positive experiences with our customers so that they will be customers for life. We want to continue our commitment to the community to provide a safe – fun and relaxing atmosphere where collectors of all ages can come experience the Card Bar and Play Zone. To educate new and old collectors on the changes in the hobby, and be a resource center for any questions they may have, and that we always are engaging with our customers to provide the best experience possible.
For more Hobby Musings from Kelsey Schroyer, follow him on Twitter @KelSchroy75.