Buying Cards in the 1990s, Memory #4: The Hat Store’s Basement

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. 

Man, oh man, did Wayne get tan!

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.  


Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

7 thoughts on “Buying Cards in the 1990s, Memory #4: The Hat Store’s Basement”

  1. For me, there were 2 such cases: one was a strip-mall combo shoe repair/card shop and the other was a stand-alone combo trophy store/card shop. They both had single glass display counters and a few shelves for packs. The trophy shop even had a 3’x5′ wall display for cards. The mom & pop card shop in the shoe repair shop eventually moved out & into another part of the mall. The owners shortly retired & sold it to their daughter (bought lots of 1993/94 Leaf 1&2 hockey there). She then sold it to another person, who moved it to another new location across town- but it sadly burned down in mid 1995. I actually worked for the daughter & last owner for a bit- being that I spent so much time in both places. The one in the trophy shop eventually closed in 1994. At 1 time here in that early 1990’s boom, there were almost 20 places that sold cards- now it might be 2, plus the Sunday flea market. Most of the boom here was fueled because of the 1990/91 Score Canadian Eric Lindros rookie.

  2. I don’t recall any odd locations for card shops in Houston during the hobby boom. But there sure were a lot of stores in general. I frequented about four or five fairly regularly and had a fairly regular Saturday routine that saw me stopping at one owned by a guy who, like me, worked at the now-defunct Houston Post and then on to my ‘main’ store where I hung out a good part of the day. That place was a terrific shop run by a family of four that had vintage and new material and about everything else you could think of in the way of memorabilia.

    The mom and pop part of the quartet passed on a few years ago but I’m still close to the sons who continue to run the business thru mail order.

    There is only one brick and mortar shop left in Houston but I haven’t been there in years. A few others have hung on by evolving into shops that specialize in comics and game cards… Pokemon/Yu-Gi-Oh! and the like.

  3. I worked part time at a card store besides my regular job. I was selling and delivering supplies and some cards . They actually bought a used post office truck for this purpose. At the time, I was working shifts so I made deliveries/sales and then drove to work in their vehicle. Sweet deal. So I saw a lot of weird places. The one in Jumbo Video was not too weird. The one in the dry cleaners and the one in the tattoo parlour, weird. Then the usual gas stations, drug stores and mom and pop stores. Everyone hoping to SCORE big and TOPPS up there sales. The PINNACLE of the card boom. (see what I did there–LOL). People trying to sell you things and they had no idea. For example, I have to buy this Ed Belfour card as he’s Murray Balfour’s son. Never bought from there–too high priced. Good times though.

  4. For me it was definitely my great aunt’s gas station which was in a small town in Eastern Ontario. When we be up visiting my grandparents it was tradition to pop over around 8 pm on a saturday where she would feed us a coke and some nibs and let us scratch old $1 tickets for her and/or open hockey cards.
    It was all good, but a real toss up between the scratching and opening!
    Anyway it was odd because she didn’t really advertise the cards, but always had a couple of boxes open to sell singles on the counter along with the 5 cent candy and licorice. She was big into card collecting at the time so it was as much about offering them for sale (my grandfather was also a big collector and set builder then and would be found over there with some of his buddies opening packs once or twice a week) to make money as it was feeding her own interest in the hobby.

  5. When I was in elementary school I went to an indoor batting cage that had a baseball card store inside. The store was all the way on one end of the cages, and you had to walk up a steep, handmade set of wooden stairs to get there. Once at the top, you’d open the heavy glass door and suddenly you were inside a card shop. I remember my mom watching me take my swing in the cages, and then afterward going up there with her to buy packs of Topps Big baseball cards, so it must have been around 1988 or 1989.

  6. Ottawa had one dedicated card store, then the “east” version of that store, and then overnight 100 stores. The best and most fitting with your story was opened in a stationary/greeting card store. That store happened to occupy an old bank branch in a strip mall. So the son of the owner put the card store in the old vault. Cool effect, lasted maybe 6 months.

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