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Still a hobby

Man turns childhood hobby into business

June 17, 2008
By DAN FELDNER, Staff Writer,

Frank Kopa has turned his boyhood passion of collecting sports cards into a new memorabilia business, but even though he has a considerable amount of time and money invested in the venture, it's still a hobby to him. The business, Grand Slam Sportscards & Collectables, located at 1107 N. Broadway, has been open since May 24 and is owned by Kopa and his wife, Airianne. It is an extension of one of Kopa's pastimes as a boy in Virginia, and Kopa says he collected baseball cards purely as a hobby and had no idea they could be so valuable. It wasn't until he was in his early 20s that he realized just how valuable his collection was. "The baseball card industry really started booming when Ken Griffey Jr. came out. Everyone was looking for his card because they thought he was going to be the next Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, whatever," Kopa said. "So that's what really started the industry in the late '80s." Kopa started taking his cards to shows and eventually opened four sports card stores in Virginia in the early 1990s. Kopa said that a lot of collectors started becoming more concerned about how much money could be made collecting cards and the industry took a downturn in the 1990s when the market became flooded with cards. "The values just dropped. So a lot of people got a bad taste in their mouth about it, so they got out of the industry," he said. "More people were selling than people were buying." Although Kopa closed his business around 1994, he still collected here and there because he enjoyed the hobby. After moving to North Dakota in 2003, Kopa and his wife started taking cards to flea markets in Minot and over the course of several years gained a good following of collectors. The collectors kept asking the Kopas when they would open a sports card store so they could buy cards more often than once a month. The Kopas finally decided to go ahead and do it, and Kopa says they wasted no time once the decision was made. Less than 30 days after they decided to start the business, the doors were open. Store hours are 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and they are closed Wednesday and Sunday. The store's phone number is 833-5244. Besides sports cards, the store also handles NASCAR plaques that contain pieces of tire the drivers actually raced on, official NASCAR diecast cars and Hot Wheels. Kopa even has a selection of U.S. and foreign coins and also has one of the largest selections of foreign currency in the state. "I have about 175 different countries of foreign currency," he said. Kopa says the main attractions for customers are the sports cards and Hot Wheels. Considering the North Broadway construction and all the activities people have during the summer, he's pleased with how business has been. "We're pretty happy with the response so far," he said. "And new people seem to be coming in every day, which is a positive sign." When someone brings in cards to trade or sell, Kopa uses a variety of price guides to help determine the value. Also taken into consideration is the physical condition of the card. Things like whether the corners are sharp and how centered the picture is are all factors used in determining a card's value. The popularity of the player and rarity of the card are also taken into consideration. While a collector can do his or her best to take care of a card to ensure it's in mint condition, there are a variety of factors, both positive and negative, that can have a significant impact on a card's value. Kopa says that while the steroid situation in baseball hasn't really affected the hobby of card collecting as a whole, it has taken a severe toll on the cards of specific players who, rightly or wrongly, are linked to the scandal. "Obviously (Barry) Bonds, his cards have gone down a little bit. Mark McGwire's cards, even though they still hold a value, the people who are looking for his card are non-existant," Kopa said. "Even though he has a rookie card from 1985 that's worth $30, it's only worth something if someone will spend $30 for it. There's no interest in his card." Kopa noted that McGuire's rookie card was at one time worth $150 when he broke baseball's single-season home run record by hitting 70 homers in 1998. Those hit hard by the steroid scandal include Bonds, McGuire, pitcher Roger Clemens, and former Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa. The court of public opinion seems to be more important than a court of law as far as baseball card values go. In the case of Clemens, it has never been proven that he used steroids and Clemens has continued to profess his innocence, but that hasn't stopped his cards from losing a considerable amount of value. Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees has also been linked to steroids, but Kopa said the value of his cards continues to stay steady or even increase. It just goes to show that in the world of baseball cards, it doesn't matter what people know, only what they think. "I have some Bonds rookies for $10, and if no one's going to spend $10 for it, then it may drop down to $9 next month," Kopa said. Kopa says whenever something happens that garners media attention in any sport, it can have a huge impact on card values. He noted the market for Michael Vick, former quarterback of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, completely bottomed out when news of his dogfighting scandal broke in 2007. And while O.J. Simpson's cards held some value for a time during his murder trial in the mid-1990s because he was such a popular figure in the news, Kopa said the cards have dropped in value now. "If you look at (Simpson's) stats and what he did when he played, compared to someone else who had similar stats, his card is a lot lower," Kopa said. Although negative media attention can cast a long shadow over a player, and thus the value of his cards, positive attention can also have a large impact. With the Boston Celtics one win away from the NBA championship, Kopa says that former Minnesota Timberwolf Kevin Garnett and lifelong Celtic Paul Pierce in particular could see a large boost in card value if they can win one more game against the Los Angeles Lakers because of their public popularity. Although winning a championship can help, Kopa says it's individual performances during the course of a season that really drive a card's value upwards. He noted that Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves is doing much to raise the value of his baseball cards by flirting with batting .400 this season, a feat that hasn't been accomplished for a full season since Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox hit .406 in 1941. Ultimately, it's the statistical numbers of cards that Kopa cares more about than the number following a dollar sign. And to help foster his love of card collecting with children in the area, he plans to start a cards for good grades program. While all the details haven't been worked out yet, the basic plan is to give a box of free sports cards to students who bring in a report card with good grades. "And for kids who don't collect, maybe it will get them to start collecting and enjoying the hobby," Kopa said. "Just a little reward for the kids (who have) good grades."

Article Photos

Dan Feldner/MDN
Frank and Airianne Kopa, owners of Grand Slam Sportscards & Collectables, show off two of Frank’s favorite cards. Airianne holds a 1953 Mickey Mantle while Frank holds an Albert Pujols rookie card.



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