At about 10:30am on a sunny Saturday in June 1998 – the 6th, to be exact – Anthony Conte parked his car in the public lot opposite the Fire House in Haddonfield.
He noticed a line of people on the sidewalk opposite and thought, at first, it was a queue for The Happy Hippo, the popular toy store on the corner of Haddon Avenue and Kings Highway. “They must be having a sale,” Tony said to himself.
It wasn’t until he actually crossed the street that he realized the people were waiting for a new baseball card store (Conte’s Card Castle – his store!) to open its doors for the first time, at 11am.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Tony said recently as he reflected on 25 years in business in Haddonfield. “It was insane. We did over $6,000 in business on June 6, 1998. When I shut up shop at the end of the day I was absolutely exhausted.”
Anthony Conte moved his collectible card business to Haddonfield from Voorhees, where he had owned and operated Mike’s Baseball Cards & Comix II for nearly four years. “I wanted to change the name to Conte’s Card Castle but the township and the landlord were making me jump through hoops to register the new name and change my signs,” Tony said.
Tony knew of the storefront at 3 Haddon Avenue because a baseball card store had been at that location previously. “Jim Rhoads (the building owner) was very accommodating,” Tony said, “and we came to an arrangement very quickly. I haven’t looked back.”
Except for the years 2011 through 2013, when the market was very tight – “Directly attributable to the housing crisis that began a few years earlier,” Tony says – the business has grown steadily. “In fact, for the past five years, it’s been phenomenal. You wouldn’t believe how much some serous collectors are paying these days for a single, rare card.”
While the Internet flattened the market for some types of sports collectibles, it hasn’t made much of a dent in the card business. One of Tony’s customers explained the reason:
“If you’re spending big bucks on quality cards, you want to be able to examine them in person,” says longtime customer Mike West. “You’ve got to check them every which way, because there are a lot of counterfeit cards out there. You can’t do that online.”
Tony is justifiably proud of his reputation carrying top quality merchandise, for his encyclopedic knowledge of the collectible card market, and for dealing with customers in an honest, straightforward manner. “In my 25 years in business, I’ve only had one item returned,” says Tony, “and that was because two people unwittingly bought the same item as a gift for a family member.”
Although baseball cards account for about 50% of Conte’s business, the store also carries cards for football, basketball, and hockey, plus Dungeons & Dragons, Pokemon, and Magic cards. And a wide variety of the supplies that card collectors of all ages need.
When asked to define “all ages,” Tony responded, “from 5 or so to senior citizen.”
Haddonfield’s mayor and commissioners will be at Conte’s Card Castle at 3:30pm on Thursday, June 8 for an anniversary ribbon-cutting.
To celebrate his store’s 25th anniversary, Tony Conte is giving customers who come to his store during their birthday week in 2023 a collectible blue-and-white Phillies baseball, mounted in a clear plastic display cube. The free offer will continue through December 31, or while supplies last. Also, from Tuesday June 6 through Sunday June 11, a chance to win a $250 storewide shopping spree.
Tony Conte says that for someone just getting into collecting, “$250 would help provide a solid base.” Alternatively, $250 would enable a seasoned collector to add a long-coveted item to an established collection.
“I’ll be happy, regardless of who wins,” Tony says. “I just want to show my customers and the community how grateful I am for their support. Twenty-five years! Who would-a thunk it?”