I know I am not alone in saying that one of my favorite childhood pastimes was collecting, and trading sports cards. If you are anything like me you also might be kicking yourself for not holding onto them if you’ve ever checked eBay to see what they are worth today.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with John Calvecchio of Chalfont Sports Connection. We discussed his lifelong passion for the hobby, how he turned it into a thriving business, and surviving throughout the pandemic.
Hey John. Great to meet with you today. Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, guys. I’m John Calvecchio, and I am the owner, along with my wife Jessica Ryan, of Chalfont Sports Connection. We started as an internet-based business back in 2009 and recently opened our first shop in Chalfont.
How and when did you get into collecting cards as a hobby?
I had an affinity for cards since I was very young. I remember when I was like seven and we were playing t ball. There was a guy that coached with my dad who was really into cards. He had told my dad about it. When we were kids we went over to each other’s house like every day, after school. We’d ride our bikes to each other’s houses, and I saw cards there. My dad liked it. I liked it. And that’s just how we started- we started because we had a friend that got us into it.
And how did the hobby become a business?
I think that my mind has always been analytically driven. It was just kind of natural for me. I wasn’t looking to make it a business when I was six or seven but I was interested in always finding a good deal finding something that I thought was undervalued or finding the next best prospect.
I had this friend when we were like 10. We realized, okay, we can’t keep asking our parents for money, we need to start doing something to make money ourselves. It was that summer when I was 10, summer of 1992. What we did was we went to this neighborhood behind the street that we lived on. And it was a whole bunch of houses real close together. We literally knocked on doors with rakes and trash bags and asked people if we could rake their leaves for $2 a bag. We would take all that money and buy cards with it. We turned this into a small landscaping business. It started as just raking leaves. And then we would have our notebook with all the names and addresses. When the snow came, hey, Mrs. Jones, can we shovel your driveway too? Sure, no problem. That turned into you guys want to cut our grass? Yeah, that sounds great. So now literally our weekends were spent doing that. And that’s how we got our money for cards.
So that young entrepreneurial spirit, allowed you to fund your own hobby.
And you know, we did it. We figured it out.
You opened your first shop in March 2020. Tell us about that journey.
Man, it was crazy. And it’s kind of emotional for me.
We’ve had an internet-based business for the better part of 11 years. It started in September of 2019. Eamon and I had talked for a while about what do we think about working together full time, which would mean he quits his job. And he’s got a wife and two kids. When we talked about this, his house was flooded. They were living in a hotel in Horsham, like literally at a hotel for months because their house was underwater. We had to get it fixed.
We were at the Starbucks on Horsham road right before Easter. And we’re like, you know what, man? Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s just do it. At first, we were just going to get an office together. I never come into this part of town- my house is closer to 309. So everything was there for me. One day I just drove by this spot. And I’m like, man, we can get this place for the same price as an office. It’s a no-brainer.
I remember when we got the keys. We’re pumped. This place was concrete and drywall. And neither one of us know how to do the work needed to get it ready, neither one of us is handy. We poured a ton of money into renovating this place. Plus, we were never into apparel so that was all new. Remember we’re doing this in the fall of 2019 and January, February of 2020 with a March 12th or March 14th Opening Day.
March 12 is when the shit hit the fan and they shut the state down. We had over 400 confirmed people that we’ve done business with on the internet coming to our Grand Opening, which we had to cancel. I was dying inside. I was scared to death, I got this guy who’s got a wife and two kids. We’re entering a global pandemic. People are losing their jobs. Everything’s closed, you have overhead that you can’t use, and we received no forbearance or forgiveness on this property. I’ve dumped all this money into stuff that we don’t even sell. I just wanted the store to look nice. And now I’m responsible for a team their family and I storefront that is just sitting empty. I wasn’t going to let him down. We made sure the team was paid the whole time and they hustled to make it work.
What are some of the things you did from March to now to make sure the doors would stay open?
We didn’t open till June 6. We worked from home from March 12 13th. to June 6. We didn’t see each other. March, April, almost three months. Like literally, he would come in when I wasn’t here. And I was just determined to figure out whatever we could do to make money.
That’s what we were doing. So, I made some bad decisions and was liquidating assets. In my mind, I’m like who is going to want sports cards? Who’s going to have discretionary spending? If we don’t have an economy if we’re shut down? So I’m like trying to get ahead of this thinking, okay… I gotta sell before things get even worse. That was a bad decision but you do what you got to do. Who would have known? Eamon was running sales in our Facebook group. That’s where we that’s how we started man, like Facebook, no website, Facebook. He was running live sales. His house was cards from his kitchen to his bedroom because he’s got to have the cards out for the sale that he’s got to pick and pluck and ship. And it was like stations. And I’m in here breaking. Buying deals. I was driving all over. I drove to Virginia. I was driving everywhere because everyone was panicking. And we were getting stuff at like, dimes on the dollar and then I don’t know what happened. Cards exploded.
We opened on June 6. I’ll never forget it. I was so happy. Like 10 o’clock we’re opening. I’m in here at like 730 making sure all the i’s are dotted t’s are crossed and… we had no power. The shopping center had no power. I’m like, Are you serious? Three months after this and today of all days, there’s no power. Power half came on. At like 1030 we had a customer bring us an industrial fan from Lowe’s because we had no air because it’s June was really hot. We had to make it work.
We’ve made a big impact in the community. We have people that drive from everywhere to come and see us. We’re as full service as you get. I started before I worked with him and just buying and selling deals. That’s all I did. It was just strictly a buy-sell business. The medium happened to be cards but it could have been diamonds jewels, could have been candy bars. I just did cards.
When Eamon told me in 2015 there’s this thing called group breaks, okay, and you have a really good personality. You know cards, you love sports, people will feel your energy through the computer, you have to do this. We started small together and it just took off.
It’s amazing and here we are.
What makes Chalfont Sports Connection then different than other card shops?
We’re full service. Okay, so a lot of stores you can go into, and they have a limited selection of new boxes, or they have a huge singles inventory. Some stores run an auction or, you know, they all do different things. We do everything.
We have a full staff here. The store has a huge selection of new products. We have every new product on release day. We have a full-service consignment business, your cards are listed on eBay that day. We’re always buying if I told you what we’ve spent since we’ve been in here on just walk-ins your jaw would drop. On top of that, we are a PSA authorized dealer, so all your grading needs can be accommodated. We have Brandon on the team and that’s basically the main focus of his job is PSA.
You’ve been able to create that all-encompassing shop for every type of collector, regardless of where they are on the scale, whether they’ve been into the hobby for two weeks or 20 years.
Precisely and we’ve just hired a few more people. It went from me and my wife out of a one-bedroom apartment, to Eamon at the beginning of a pandemic. Then bringing Brandon on full-time to Ryan who’s basically full-time and Alex just left his corporate job at footlocker to come on full time.
Fantastic. So the team’s growing, the shops growing. You made it past that initial hurdle of the pandemic, which, I think everybody that’s operating a business has had to do to stay alive.
Yeah. It wasn’t easy but here we are today.
Fantastic. That brings me to my next question. You are about to open your second shop. Can you tell me more about that?
Yeah, this last year, we’ve just been blessed with how well the industry is done. We made a lot of really good investments like years old investments. Going back to my original reason for getting in cards is I just thought it was an inefficient market. There was stuff that wasn’t valued the way it should be. I tried to diversify. I took some money out of cards, and we just bought a beautiful building in Doylestown. Coincidentally, we made the settlement on the property on March 12.
Oh, wow! That came full circle.
Crazy, right! I cannot tell you how grateful I am that we are in this position today.
Well John we appreciate your time and I’m sure the readers of Delaware River Towns Local will enjoy your story as much as I did.
Thank you. I would also like to thank our customers. We couldn’t have done it without you.