At a time when Batman and Captain America are all over the big screens and sports culture is becoming increasingly digital, one might think superheroes’ and athletes’ presence on paper is waning. But collecting cards and comics is alive and well in Yorkville, where Alex’s MVP Cards and Comics has everything an X-Men-, Archie-, or sport-loving aficionado could want.
Alex Gregg first opened a store on the Upper East Side 27 years ago. The business grew out of his own personal collection and interest and is now the place to locate that latest rookie card, newest comic, or buy a piece of memorabilia. Alex certainly knows a great deal about history – particularly New York history – having worked for 22 years as a bartender at the famed (and now closed) establishment Elaine’s. 6sqft recently spoke with Alex about how cards and comics have both changed and remained the same and about his days at Elaine’s.
Growing up, were you interested in baseball cards and comics?
Well first of all, my idol was Mickey Mantle, and I would trade anybody for Mantles, so I had a huge collection of his cards. But I remember one particular time my uncle had this job putting the New York Times sections together for a really busy candy store and the guy would give me a box of cards because I would have to wait on my uncle to finish the job. And a few doors down there was one of the big trucking/moving firms, so I would go into the lot and sit on the step of the truck and open up the packs of cards. I can still smell the gum.
What inspired you to start a card and comic book store?
I started collecting again in the early ’80s and amassed quite a collection. So I saw this basement space for rent and I was just going to do mail order, but then people started coming down and I bought my finish cabinet, I put cards in it and it grew from there. This location here, I will be here two years in November, but I was on 89th Street between Second and Third for about 26 years.
Do you think the comics have changed?
Now there’s a lot more, and you have to be very careful how you order. There was less of a choice back then. I think I collected even before Spider-Man existed, so I was a Superman guy.
Are you still a Superman guy?
Well, he’s made some transitions. I like all the old stuff.
What about sports cards; have they also changed?
In the ’90s there was a glut, an overproduction. People thought they could make a fortune overnight, and that really hurt the business. So now there are more controls and less product. A lot of the cards are numbered, so if you’ve got a 1/1, it means there was only one card made. And if it’s a really good player like Stephen Curry, I think his card went for something like $20,000. It’s usually in the more expensive packs because they’re produced better. There’s no gum, so you don’t have to worry about gum stains. When I was a kid and I got a gum stain on a Mantle, I was really upset.
How has your business grown over the years?
I’ve been in business 27 years and have built quite a reputation for myself. It’s certainly become more expensive. There’s a case of cards in the cabinet that’s $1,500. In some senses, it’s kind of knocked the kids out of the hobby because it’s expensive, but there are still cards and items that kids can afford for two or three dollars. When I was a kid, it was just five cents.
How has the digital age impacted the business?
In some areas it helps me have a wider audience, but then on the other hand the competition is much greater. It closed a lot of businesses, and especially with the rents in New York City, we’re losing our essential services — the local shoemaker, the local this, the local that. We keep seeing nail salons and Starbucks and banks, but you need small businesses to support a community.
Do you have a lot of adults who come in?
A lot yes, especially with the comics. I would say between 20- and 40-year-olds, and they’re very serious about their collecting. They want their books and they want to follow the storylines; they’re very loyal.
What are some of the popular cards and comics right now?
People are always trying to get rookie cards, especially a rookie card of a good player. In comics, it’s basically the same titles—Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men—from way back when. They still hold up.
Owning a store in New York, you always hope that some New York team does well because then there is more interest, and the kids want to buy Mets and Yankees cards. They were both doing well last year, so it was very good.
Do you carry anything unique?
I always try to get things that are old and in great shape. Like I have that ’62 Mets bobble head in there and he’s in pristine condition. And it’s hard to get something like that.
You used to also work as a bartender at the famed Elaine’s. What was that experience like?
Like no other kind. It was a legendary place. You never knew who was going to come in the door, and I personally gravitated towards the journalists and writers. I have a particular fondness for the person who works with the blank page. When I first started there I was a little awe struck, but I got over that. Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio came there. Lot of Mets and Yankees. Keith Hernandez was there. Jim Leyritz. Too many to mention. One of my favorite movies is “Seven Beauties” and Giancarlo Giannini was there one night. He was in the back of the bar, and he pointed to me, came over, looked at me quizzically, and I extended my hand and said “Seven Beauties” and he went, “Thank you.”
Alex’s MVP Cards and Comics
1577 York Avenue
New York, NY 10028
[This interview has been edited]
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