If you grew up in Chicago and collected sports trading cards in the early 1990s, then you might remember that card shop in the hat store.
Yes, seriously. There was a card shop in a hat store — in its basement, specifically. Long before there was such thing as a Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, there was a Combination Baseball Card and Hat Store. This was the 1990s, after all, and sports cards were everywhere.
The hat store in question was called Hats Plus, and it specialized in really nice hats, like fedoras, fur-lined winter hats and ladies’ dress hats. According to the manager, the card shop that used to occupy the basement was called The Lower Deck. Hats Plus was located in Chicago’s “Six Corners” shopping district, right next to the Sears on the 4700 block of West Irving Park Road. I say was, and not is, because Hats Plus recently closed its storefront after 30 years, but continues to sell hats online.
Today, it may seem unusual that a sports collectibles dealer would sublet the basement of a hat store, but back in the 1990s, odd stuff like that was happening all the time. The trading card industry grew so rapidly in the late 1980s and early 1990s that many times new dealers would start small and rent space from larger businesses. You’d pass by some random store and see a handmade sign that said “We Sell Baseball Cards,” or find a few display cases and/or wax boxes at places you didn’t think sold cards.
During the 1990-91 season, I remember my friends at school talking about that “card shop in the hat store.” One day, I went there with my mom, and sure enough, downstairs was a card shop.
I only went there one time — at least at that location. If the store in question was indeed The Lower Deck, then I did shop there a few more times when it had its own storefront in the late 1990s. Anyway, I vaguely remember hat-store-card-shop consisting of four or five glass display cases in a front corner of the basement, to the left of the stairway. There were also a few shelves behind the cases with boxes and packs.
The rest of the basement was used as storage for — you guessed it — hats. I think I spent around $5 or $10 there. The card shop did have a 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee factory set that had been opened, with many of the star cards and Blackhawks cards pulled and sold. I went through it and picked out a few cards, including the Wayne Gretzky Art Ross card, in all its purple-bordered glory.
I also bought a few packs of 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee, which you could only find at card shops in Chicago. I want to say that these might have been marked up from their 45-cent suggested price to maybe $1 per pack. I remember opening the packs on the car ride home and being really happy about getting a Wayne Van Dorp rookie card. (It also made me a bit sad, since he was now with the Quebec Nordiques.)
I never returned to the “card shop in the hat store,” because it didn’t have much hockey, especially older cards. Plus, it was a bit out of the way for me, and there were plenty of other places that I could find cards. Still, it is cool to think back to a time when card shops were seemingly everywhere.
Do you remember finding hockey cards in unusual places, either during your childhood, or more recently? Leave a comment and let me know. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.