BOSTON. Bromfield Street is a dark, unimpressive lane that is only two blocks long, but it is the epicenter of the New England sports card market, much as Wall Street is the headquarters of securities fraud in America. “We’re the canary in the coal mine of the economy,” says dealer Mike “Tork” Torkinson, who has held down a spot at the corner of Bromfield and Province Streets for twenty years. “With higher interest rates and a strong dollar, if a dad has to choose between giving his kid five bucks for a pack of baseball cards and drinking single malt scotch, you know which way he’s going to go.”
While numerous dealers on “The Street” were wiped out in the Great Rickey Henderson Crash of 2003, those who employed complex hedging strategies survived, and this reporter finds Torkinson with a wary but relaxed expression on his face even as other shop-owners here say they are nervous that the bottom could fall out again if the yield on the three-year Treasury bill climbs much higher. “A lot of your thinly-capitalized traders will fold, but I’ve got it all figured out,” Torkinson says, lifting a finger to tap his temple, but poking himself in the eye when he nods his head to congratulate himself on his foresight.
And what, this reporter asks, is his plan?
Torkinson’s lips form themselves into a smug little moue before he says, slowly and deliberately, “Game . . . worn . . . dress shields.”
About a year ago, Torkinson pitched his concept to the major sports card companies; take the “game-worn jersey” concept, in which a scrap of a player’s uniform is embedded in a card like the relic of a saint, but use dress shields worn by football and basketball cheerleaders to justify premium prices. “It worked in the 90s to raise margins when a lot of newbies came into the market hoping to capitalize on the steroids era,” he says as he eyes a teenaged boy who has entered the store with his mother. “We’re trying to extend the buying cycle of our typical card consumer, who tends to lose interest in little cardboard squares once he notices girls’ bazoombas.”
“Dress shields” are underarm liners worn by women to prevent tight-fitting clothing from showing perspiration in the armpit region. Also known as “sweat guards” and “pitty protectors,” they are considered as important to cheerleaders as a helmet to a football player or a tattoo to a basketball player.
“Some of these girls, it’s tragic,” says Dr. Philip Costernau, a pathologist at New England Armpit Hospital, the leading acute-care facility for the diagnosis and treatment of underarm sweat gland disorders. “They’ve been training since they were toddlers to take their place along the sidelines of a major sports event in a subsidiary role to male lunkheads, and then they start spraying sweat like a sprinkler system in a four-alarm fire.”
While a fascination with the female axilla, the technical Latin term for “armpit,” has in the past been viewed as an unhealthy fetish, it was recently removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the leading compilation of criteria used by psychiatrists and psychologists. “It’s time for the armpit-loving community to come out of the shadows,” says a shopper in Torkinson’s shop who prefers to remain anonymous, but whose credit card reads “Mike Grealy.” “What Tork has done for guys like me is validate the legitimacy of our weirdness.”
Sales of the cards were slow at first, but from foot traffic up and down the street today it appears that the concept has legs. The sound of his cash register ringing puts a smile on Torkinson’s face, but it is quickly dispelled when he is forced back into his familiar role of inventory cop. “Hey kid,” he shouts across the crowded store at a twelve-year old who is fingering an Arizona Cardinals Dance Team Member card. “Get your hands off the push-up bra–now!”