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Edmonton hobby stores hit by rash of break-ins targeting trading cards

Jason Wynn, owner of the retailer Hobz, said he often has to tell people why he doesn't stock Pokemon cards. (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)
Jason Wynn, owner of the retailer Hobz, said he often has to tell people why he doesn't stock Pokemon cards. (Craig Ryan/CBC - image credit)

The shelves of Hobz in southeast Edmonton are lined with items expected of the gaming hobby store: board games, miniatures, and dice.

But there's one product you won't find: Pokemon cards. The collectibles have proven a magnet for criminals — the store's former location lost close to $16,000 between two break-ins last year.

Owner Jason Wynn decided the best solution was to stop stocking them.

"If we get robbed again, we won't survive," he said Monday.

Hobby stores across Edmonton have seen a rash of burglaries targeting collectible cards, reaching the point where police recognize the thefts as a problem.

Brendan Capel, owner of Star Lotus Games, said the community of specialized small businesses remain in contact and has experienced nearly a dozen break-ins in the last year. His store was hit twice around the end of February 2022.

"The last year-and-a-half has definitely been worse than probably anytime in the last decade," he said.

Card value

Trading card value can vary wildly based on factors like rarity, artwork, or usefulness in the actual game. A single card can range from a quarter to hundreds of dollars and into the thousands for some exceptional cases.

Capel suspects the thefts may stem from the exploding popularity of cards through the pandemic.

"There were some online personalities through streaming and other stuff that really hyped up old Pokemon products," he said.

Brian Tews, owner of Taps games, said Pokemon cards have been the primary target with other trading card games, like Magic: The Gathering, being incidental.

He too ascribes the rise to a growing awareness of exceptional cases.

"When they see the YouTube stories, the news stories, Magic card sells for $180,000, Pokemon card sells for $150,000 — they don't understand the scarcity on those cards that are selling for that price. "

Craig Ryan/CBC
Craig Ryan/CBC

Taps has lost around $60,000 in merchandise during two break-ins. Tews said he's had to haggle for months with insurance companies, and is still doing so for the most recent smash-and-grab in October.

He's also revamped security.

"Unfortunately, bars on windows doesn't look the best but we need to do it at the end."

Individual cards do not have a SKU — stock-keeping unit — making it difficult to track even what was stolen, Tews said. Finding stolen products and the thieves has also proven difficult, he said.

Store owners are feeling the impact.

"None of us are rich. I mean, I didn't drive my Ferrari to work this morning. I drive a minivan like most people," Tews said.

"So it hurts us a lot more than hitting a big store."

Problem occurrence

Sgt. Aubrey Zalasky, with the Edmonton Police Service's corporate communications, said the issue has been identified as a "problem occurrence."

"As a result of that, we are trying to do an even deeper dive," he said. Frontline officers have been briefed while the analytics department is considering questions like whether it could be a series by repeat offenders or just one-offs by individuals.

Zalasky said Edmontonians should report to police if they spot trading cards whose origin could be suspicious.

"The public's vigilance is very, very important in us trying to be able to solve these things."