To the right, several NBA rookie-class packs lie uniform, each priced at an eye-popping $15,000. To the left, the latest NFL draft box allures avid football fans, perhaps holding unknown treasures within. And directly ahead, relentlessly tempting in their pristine quality, are mint condition all-star collectibles of some of the sports world’s favorite stars: Giannis Antetekounmpo, Joe Burrow, Cristiano Ronaldo and Tom Brady.
Although it is tucked away along the side streets of West Manchester Avenue, “The Bullpen” is considered by many to be one of L.A.’s hidden gems. It’s something of a haven for card collectors and casual fans alike. If you’ve somehow missed the sleepy charm of this sports card superstore, consider this your first lesson in Pandemic Economics 101. Around the time that coronavirus threatened to cripple other small businesses in L.A., The Bullpen began recording record sales. Why? Store owner Mitch Guttenberg and his business partner Tai agreed to shed some light on the matter.
Chris Benis (C.B.): Explain a little about what the Bullpen offers its customers that sets it apart from the competition. What do you specialize in?
Mitch Guttenberg (M.G.): We are a brick-and-mortar sports card store; we have more inventory than any other store in the country. Basically what we do are live Instagram “breaks” every single day of the year, usually from 8 p.m. to 2 in the morning. We break open packs by rookie classes. We also sell single cards, you know, all the stars.”
C.B.: Could you elaborate on these live Instagram breaks? What makes them so enjoyable and popular?
M.G.: People love to rip wax. We have clients purchasing boxes remotely right now, and we open them up [on our instagram] later that evening. And of course, there is a gambling aspect to it. If you buy a $3,000 box and you get a $6,000 raw Zion Williamson rookie, there is a certain thrill to it. It’s all about entertainment and enjoyment; [customers] like their boxes ripped open, and everyone’s rooting for everybody.
C.B.: Is there also a chance that you’ll come away with nothing, though? Is disappointment a foreseeable result sometimes?
Tai: We shouldn’t advertise it as gambling per se; no one goes away empty-handed. For instance, our Topps Chrome box will have five autographed cards on average. It gives everyone a chance to a higher-end product that maybe they couldn’t afford on their own. How we feel at The Bullpen is, if you spend your hard-earned money, you’re at least going to get something valuable out of any box.”
C.B.: How has business been during the pandemic? Is the Bullpen still thriving?
M.G.: Our business is crazy good. I feel bad that other businesses are not doing as well as we are. For a lot of people, because they are gambling less during Covid, their gambling funds are going directly to cards. [And] During this pandemic, we’ve been on the radar of investors. Hedge funds are using cases as part of their portfolios now.
[Note: Hedge funds are private partnerships of investors that utilize high risk/high reward methods with borrowed funds in hopes of realizing large capital gains.]
C.B.: But why right now— what is it about the pandemic that turns the heads of investors who would otherwise invest in index funds or company stock?
M.G.: Unlike the stock market, investing in sports cards is a hard asset. And if you look at the returns on a Luka Dončić rookie five years ago, or a LeBron rookie, those can appreciate more.
The Bullpen, it seems, has benefitted from the pandemic due to the changing mental and financial mindsets of its customers. This is the world we live in right now: people want hard assets to invest in during the economic instability of a Covid-impacted world.
Lastly, if you are wondering if your own childhood cards have appreciated in value, The Bullpen offers a grading service. Cards are evaluated through PSA, which provides industry-level authentification. Mitch and Tai added, “You can fill out a form on our website and drop off your cards. We take them to PSA for their grading service and bring them back to the store once they are finished.”
In any case, LMU students should be aware of The Bullpen’s existence, especially given its recent rise in online popularity and close proximity to campus. So if you’re in the area, pop into the store and gaze longingly at the towering mass of boxes, each of which could hold the card that pays off your student loans.
Address: 6234 W 87th St, Los Angeles, CA 90045
Phone number: (424) 228-2830
Current hours: 2 p.m. -7 p.m.