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Mid Week Mugging: The hockey card guru of the north

'Everybody stops here, we have people from the south, east, west, north and they all stop here'
Ultimate Sportscards owner Rob Collins (right) and his employee Jason Prince. Photo by Chris Dawson.

Mid-Week Mugging is a series of features by BayToday. Each Wednesday, we will run a profile on a local business or organization that will be "mugged" with BayToday coffee cups. The subjects will then "mug" for our camera and we will tell a little bit about their story.

You could call Rob Collins a survivor. 

The owner of Ultimate Sportscards Hockey card store located on Cassells Street in North Bay will celebrate 20 years of being in business next August.  

When he opened his original location on Fisher Street, there were seven hockey card stores in the city.  He has stayed in business despite all six others shutting their doors and even persevered through a pair of NHL lockouts that hit him in the wallet hard.   

The 2012 Lockout was especially tough; leaving the cards heavily stacked against him.   

“It did quite the impact on us, it definitely was a really low point for us. It was really hard and really difficult and I overcame it and what I ended up doing was I hired a full-time employee and I had another full-time employee and we just went full rip onto the internet world and that’s what changed it because literally five or six years ago it was at the point where I was going to shut the retail store down and just do the internet,” said the young father of two.   

Collins believes he has stayed in business by continuing to purchase inventory and offering quality customer service along the way.  

Now, his store has become the hockey card hub of northern Ontario. 

“Everybody stops here, we have people from the south, east, west, north and they all stop here,” said Collins noting that former NHLer Jonathan Cheechoo has become a loyal client.  

“There are not many stores left (in the north) we are the only hockey card store like this, everybody else got into gaming, Yugioh, Magic and all that kind of stuff. We just stay strictly hockey and I think that is what brought the hockey people here.” 

But Collins does not think he has a monopoly on the hockey card business because the internet has become a huge selling network for collectors all over the planet.  

“About 70% of my customers sell stuff on the internet, what it has done is it has generated that market for a regular customer to move an item on E-Bay or Amazon or wherever you choose to move it,” he said.   

“It gave them that leeway of not just being stuck here and I have a lot of my regular guys that are full-time now, they sell full-time online and they left their jobs to sell stuff on EBay.  So the internet world has helped me.” 

His career highlight was getting invited to an Upper Deck Hockey Card Dealer conference in Phoenix last year where he got the opportunity to meet a number of high profile sports celebrities including Mike Tyson and Mike Modano.  He's also met and went for dinner with Sidney Crosby at another dealer function.  

But Collins admits he does not have to leave his own store to meet interesting people.  His store lures some of the most interesting people coming in to try to trade in their collection.  It doesn’t stop at hockey cards.  

“We have purchased Babe Ruth rookies, all kinds of stuff, old magazines, or like this week we saw an old german book from the 1600’s, so we see it all. I have really wanted to have a TV show because it never ends in here, the kind of odd stuff that makes its way into our store blows our minds,” said Collins who recently purchased some silver bars from a customer. 

But Collins believes the hockey card business is booming thanks in many ways to the limit the industry is putting on product plus the emergence of super stars Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, who have taken the hobby by storm.