When summertime comes around, a lot of people feel like going on holiday, and for many of those, it means hitting the beach. For me, normally, holiday means going back home to Quebec, and while one of the main attractions of this destination is seeing everyone and everything I miss, another one is to go on a hockey card spending spree. Living in England, when its time to buy cards; singles or boxes, I have to turn to the Internet as there are no shops on this side of the pond to fuel my addiction.

This year, I spent three weeks in Quebec, and I was amazed at how easily I could get cards; they were everywhere! Hobby shops of course but also video and convenience stores, supermarkets and even sports equipment shops. Needless to say it ended up being a rather pricey holiday. Of all the stores I visited, these two were my favourite although they both had upsides and downsides.

L’Imaginaire – Place Laurier Shopping Centre Ste-Foy

This shop is not strictly focused on sports cards, it also provides for plenty of other hobbies: coins, stamps, comic books and action figures are a few examples of the items which can be found at L’imaginaire. It took me almost half an hour to even enter the shop as the outside is rather spectacular; shelves and shelves of various action figures, some simply breathtaking.

Once I finished browsing all of those stunning figures, I made my way inside the shop, and I was lost to the world for a good two hours. This made me realize how much of a geek I really am, not that I mind though, and I felt right at home in what can only be qualified as geek heaven! I immediately made my way towards the hockey section of the shop where I browsed the hockey jerseys, the McFarlane figures and, of course, the cards.

The choice of 2007-08 products wasn’t bad considering that it is the off season and a lot of the big sellers are sold out. Up for grabs were packs and boxes of Superlative, SP Authentic, Trilogy, Mini Jersey, Upper Deck Series 2, Be A Player, OPC Premier, Heroes and Prospect, Ultimate Collection and Between the Pipes. The prices were affordable:

Brand                                        Packs                Boxes
Superlative                               N/A                $465.53
SP Authentic                           $5.32               $119.60
Trilogy                                     $19.93             $168.33
Mini Jersey                              $4.87                $83.28
Upper Deck Series 2 (Retail)     $2.44               $54.93
Be A Player                              $12.85              $97.45
OPC Premier                            N/A                 $177.19
Ice                                          $5.32               $101.00
Ultimate Collection                 $93.02             $354.37
Between the Pipes                   $3.99               $88.59
Artifacts Retail                         $2.44               $53.16

The shop also stocked a significant amount of singles which were all priced at full Beckett value. Some will say this is normal as it is a shop and they are in it to make money, but each and every card was listed at full price including base cards. Furthermore, they also buy cards if you are willing to sell but do not expect too much of a return. I was lucky enough to pull my second Carey Price Young Guns RC and decided to see how much they would offer me for it, and to my huge surprise, they were only willing to offer $50. Bearing in mind that they had none in stock and that Price really is a hot commodity amongst the Habs fan base in Quebec, I would have thought that they would have offered more for it and really tried to pry it from my hands. I declined the offer and traded it on SCF instead for some Patrick Roy PC goodies.

All in all, I really liked the shop. The staff was helpful and knowledgeable and even gave me an update on the Habs signing Laraque. I got out of there with one box of Ultimate, six packs of SPA, three packs of Ice and one pack of Trilogy. I then came back for more three times during my holiday. My main negative comment about this shop however is the fact that about four days after my Ultimate box purchase, they called me and said that they had not put the purchase on my credit card, to which I replied “well of course you didn’t, I paid cash.” Which I did as the box was a gift from my folks, but the rest of the packs I did put on my card and the owner had the cheek to say “you didn’t pay for that cash?!?” As if to say you can’t possibly have that much money. Let’s just say that was not an enjoyable experience.

Final Ratings
Variety: 5/5
Staff: 4.5/5
Prices: 4.5/5
Shop Layout: 5/5

Final grade: 95%

Hobby Sports Collection (2600 Boulevard Laurier, http://www.hobbysportscollections.com)

Unlike L’imaginaire and as indicated by its name, this shop concentrated solely on sports. They had cards in stock for all sports, but I was not overly impressed with their hockey selection. My buying options were limited to Sweet Shot, OPC Premier, OPC, Be a Player and Artifacts retail.

Brand                           Packs         Boxes
Sweet Shot                  N/A           $79.99
OPC Premier                N/A           $185.99
OPC                             $2.39         $79.99
Be A Player                   $13.89       $99.99
Artifacts Retail              $2.49         $54.99

Not only was there not a massive selection, but the prices were a little bit higher than at the other store. However, on the plus side they had some Sweet Shot in stock, and I could not resist buying two tins. I had been at the counter staring at the selection for a good 10 minutes trying to decide what to get, and once I had made my decision, I turned to the clerk to request the tins. To me pleasant surprise, the clerk was a girl. It’s always good to see fellow women enjoying the hobby. I therefore asked her for two tins of Sweet Shot and to my huge disappointment the answer came back: “Two tins of what?” She obviously had no clue what Sweet Shot was. Fine I tell myself perhaps she is more interested in other sports, so I say the metal box there with Patrick Roy on the top of it. Well, believe it or not (and keep in mind that this is in Quebec City where Roy was born and now coaches Les Remparts) she said: “Who?” I nearly lost consciousness! That the Brits look at me all confused and clueless when I talk about Roy or Brodeur I can handle, but that someone who works in a card shop in Quebec City has no idea who Roy is, well that is simply too awful. One of the plus sides of going into a hobby shop rather than buying online is to be able to share your passion with the person who is selling you the goods.

Needless to say, Hobby Sports Collection lost my customs for boxes and packs there and then. For the rest of the holiday, all I bought from the shop was top loaders, hard case and a few flat boxes for my base cards. Maybe I overreacted, but that discussion in the shop and the close attention the clerk pays when you are busting the packs are an integral part of the experience for me and it was just lacking there…

Do not get me wrong, the shop was very nice and had loads of merchandise in stock (mini sticks, glasses, clocks, beach towels, McFarlane etc…) and even an original Patrick Roy painting which was rather nice. But overall, the other alternative offered a more enjoyable shopping experience.

Final Ratings
Variety: 4/5
Staff: 3/5
Prices: 4.5/5
Shop Layout: 5/5

Final grade: 82.5%

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and before I knew it, and it was time to fly back to good old England. I am therefore back online, buying and spending insane amounts on shipping fees. So to you, my fellow collectors and more specifically to those of you who are lucky enough to be on the right side of the Atlantic, I say that you are amazingly lucky to have the hobby so readily available anytime you want to get some wax. Although all things considered, it may be a bit hard not to spend too much when cards are everywhere, I know I sure had a hard time controlling myself!