Of all the complexities of the human mind, few features are as commonplace, multifaceted and psychologically studied as the compulsion to collect things.
Often, people frame the passion for collecting — from stamps to vintage luxury cars — in terms of money, but the compulsion is often deeply emotional. After all, why else would someone fork over thousands of dollars for a little glorified index card, printed and laminated, that depicts a particular athlete in a particular sport at a particular time?
Whatever the reason, the pastime of collecting cards, model airplanes, tabletop game figurines and the like is a deeply rewarding experience, said Laura Bisted, the owner of Sports Card Central in downtown Brainerd. It is here, in Sports Card Central, that collectables of all sorts can be found, she said, as well as a community of people from all walks of life who are brought together by mutual interests — from football cards to Pokemon decks; from paint sets for model cars to Beanie Baby holders; and just about every knick knack in between.
“I enjoy it too much,” said Bisted, who’s owned Sports Card Central since ‘97 and has been personally collecting baseball cards since ‘86 — a hobby that ultimately prompted her to leave the child care industry behind when a retired friend offered to help launch Bisted’s business free of charge. “It’s the people. They’re fascinating. If you have a bad day, somebody will come in and just make it all so much better. I always say I don’t work in retail. People have to go to the store to pick up things. Here? Not at all. People come in here because they want to, not because they have to.”
A self-described “set builder,” Bisted said her own compulsion has always been a kind of meditative experience where she’d take apart a deck of baseball cards, identify a particular set or common feature she’d like to showcase, and build a collection with that understanding in mind. It could be players who were rookies in a particular year, she said, or it could be players with unusual names, or it could be members of a particular team during a particular run of success.
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Whatever the reason, she said, it’s been a deeply rewarding experience that’ll have her sifting through thousands of cards long into the night. Collectors of all stripes share in this common experience, she said, even if their reasons for collecting and how they collect differ as much as their personalities. What this creates is a tightly-knit community of people who gather, commune and enjoy each other’s company as much as they do the cards.
“They come in here. It's just a few minutes out of their day to relax and unwind before they have to go home or go back to work,” Bisted said. “I get a lot of guys coming here over their lunch hour. I got some guys that come in here every day. I got some that come in once a week or a couple of times a year.”
“It’s fun getting to know everybody. That's the best part about this,” Bisted added. “It's just getting to know everybody and what they save. We call it ‘Crack in a pack,’ because it's just fun to open a card and find what you're looking for. Some people are looking for the $1,000 card and other people are looking for a nickel card.”
Sports Card Central itself is something of a passion project and a way to make a living all wrapped up into one, said Bisted of the 1,000-square-foot parlor she operates on Front Street all by herself (with occasional help from her husband, Todd Bisted). Sports Card Central’s name and reputation largely rests in the sports cards trade, Bisted said, but in truth the shop largely functions as one of the lakes area’s few novelty, craft and collectable shops, especially after previous establishments have closed down over the years, one by one.
With no staff and a small space, Bisted said, she’s able to maintain a relatively large collection — with healthy demand that’s pushed suppliers to the limit during COVID-19 — and fair prices across the board. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of cards of all kinds pass through these doors on a regular basis, she said, and as for the rest? Well, if it’s the kind of hobby that’ll have a person scrutinizing the fine details, the hidden craftsmanship and the sheer novelty of owning something uncommon, then Sports Card Central just might be the place to go.
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It isn’t easy, she said. Much like any small business, running a collectables shop is a matter of feast and famine, Bisted said, and after more than two decades if there’s any lesson she’s learned is that a proprietor has to take advantage of the plentiful times, so they have something stowed away during the lean times.
“Some days you’re the windshield. Some days you’re the bug,” Bisted said. “I’ve had days where I’ve made thousands and I’ve had days where I’ve made $25 bucks. I built up the business, so I was able to buy the building. When I started this, the days were long and the money was short. It's come a long way. I've expanded the store three times. In my time, we remodeled here five years ago, and it's just fun to watch it grow.”
What about the COVID-19 pandemic? It’s been a tough challenge, Bisted said, but it’s also pushed people to stay home and spend a bit more time rummaging through their garages, attics and closets, and the results have been magical.
“It’s been a wild ride!” Bisted said. “People got back into the closet and underneath their bed and in the basement and they said ‘Oh my God, look at what I found!’ And they found their collections again. They found their passion again. They just found a new interest in it. I've been lucky. I've been very lucky.”