Sports card store hits a homer


FAIRBORN — Sports card collectors and memorabilia hounds have a new hub to stop into, courtesy downtown Fairborn’s recently opened Gem City Collects.

Though they opened their brick-and-mortar store a mere nine months ago, 36-year-old husband and wife team Christina and Robert Hensley have been in the card and memorabilia selling game since 2018, two years after marrying and four after first having met through friends.

Christina, Fairborn born and bred, and daughter of the proprietor of longtime local mainstay Gordon’s Fairborn Shoe Repair, had not been much for cards, nor memorabilia until meeting Robert, a Springfield native who has loved collecting and selling cards since he was a child. A physical therapist who has recently delved into working in the field of worker’s comp management, Christina grew passionate about cards and memorabilia due to her relationship with Robert, who has worked for most of his life at factories making parts for semi trucks.

The two began a precursor to Gem City Collects in their basement through a small organization called C.B. Sports (whose origin stemmed from combining “Christina” and “Billy,” Robert’s nickname).

Finding success selling and trading cards online through such platforms as eBay and the specialized card market app Loupe, the Hensley’s decided it was time to branch out into the offline world with their own store, launching Gem City Collects in mid-2021.

Although they are of course now aware of the connection between their chosen store name and neighboring Dayton’s nickname, the duo claim this was a coincidence and that the actual reason for deciding on “Gem City” was simply the notion of finding a hidden “gem” in sports card scavenging. Funnily enough, they were initially confused at times for being a store selling actual gems and other precious stones due to both their name and their close proximity to Coyne’s Crystals.

“I didn’t really even know that Dayton was called that, because I never really went there much before,” Robert said. “After we had ‘sports cards and memorabilia’ added to our storefront windows, though, the confusion with what we sell inside wasn’t really a problem anymore. It helped out a lot. People drive by and see that.”

Robert revealed that though they suffered through a rough start in their first week of operation, wondering if perhaps they’d made a mistake opening the store, movement in the business quickly picked up and after their bumpy start, they were and are now swamped with local collectors seeking out the store’s unique stock.

It’s been a particularly pleasant experience running the store, said Robert, who is grateful he can not only work a business that is a personal passion but also one he runs with his wife.

“We work well together,” Robert said. “We both have a lot of aspirations and ambition to do better.”

“I didn’t really know that his passion would become my passion,” Christina said, reflecting back on the team’s early days selling product from the basement before taking the leap into store ownership.

“We were really doing great business with C.B. Sports and just kept getting bigger,” Robert said, with Christina chiming in that they notably hit their stride during 2020 and the peak COVID period.

“People were stuck at home, a lot of them were laid off and had less to do and were going through old boxes and things, maybe looking back into their old hobbies like card collecting,” Christina said. “Whatever the reason, we really took off during the time and realized moving into an actual store was the next logical step. Especially since our basement already looked like a little store with product stacked up on shelves everywhere, anyway.”

“We sell a lot of Pokémon cards and baseball cards,” Robert said, elaborating that though he’s always been a sports fan, he’s had so many customers asking about Pokémon cards that he felt it was time they broaden their offerings to include the anime-based collector cards.

“I don’t know a lot about Pokémon, but I did learn some. I still don’t know much about them, but I know enough at this point, and we just want to make sure we’re being aware of our area customer base and what they’re looking for when they come to the store.”

To broaden their store’s reach in the community even further, Robert said the store’s next step is having in-person events such as cookouts where they’ll offer premiums and free packs of cards, in addition to “trade nights” where customers can come to socialize and trade their cards together in a “safe and welcoming space that will be suitable for any age. They can trade sports and Pokémon cards, or even Magic: The Gathering or other card sets, too.

As both an impassioned fan of collecting and now an operator of his own store offering same, Robert said that, “I’ve always grown up playing and loving sports as a kid. Especially baseball. And that led me into collecting baseball cards, then other sports cards.”

“There’s just something about it,” he said. “I love the designs of them. I love rooting for my favorite teams and players, going after collecting those particular cards for my own collection. Then you get cards that are autographed, and you may have one that only a few other people in the world have autographed too, like a rare Mickey Mantle or something.”

“For me, it’s not a job,” Robert said. “I could do this 18 hours a day without batting an eye. I wake up and smile, and can’t wait to come to the store. I get to meet new people. You never know what comes into the shop. Maybe someone will bring in a ten-cent, or a $25,000 card. You never know what’s going to come in next. And that’s what makes it so fun for us to do what we’re doing and why we can’t wait to keep expanding in the future.”

Downtown Fairborn’s new sports card and memorabilia store, Gem City Collects. Fairborn’s new sports card and memorabilia store, Gem City Collects.

Photos by Mathew Klickstein | Greene County News Christina and Robert Hensley, owners of Gem City Collects in downtown Fairborn. by Mathew Klickstein | Greene County News Christina and Robert Hensley, owners of Gem City Collects in downtown Fairborn.

Downtown Fairborn’s new sports card and memorabilia store, Gem City Collects. Fairborn’s new sports card and memorabilia store, Gem City Collects.

By Mathew Klickstein

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Contact Mathew Klickstein at 937-372-4444.

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