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DugoutZone calls it a game at retail location in Ellicott City; will continue online

After 21 years as the place where local sports fans could find a rare baseball card, an autographed football or even collectible photos, comic books and other memorabilia, the DugoutZone is closing its doors in Ellicott City.

Rick Hubata, owner, said it’s time to shutter the brick-and-mortar location, though he will continue to host events and online sales. The last day for the shop in the Chatham Station Shopping Center on Baltimore National Pike is Jan. 31.

Hubata, 67, cited declining revenues and a changing market for his decision.

Online retailers such as Amazon have been cited by critics for the decline of stores like Sears, Toys “R” Us and Barnes & Noble. Hubata said it was eBay that more profoundly changed the collectibles market where he once thrived.

“The Internet was made for selling cards,” he said.

It was 1991 when Hubata opened his shop in then-Chatham Mall, during the height of the sports trading card market. Finding, buying and storing baseball cards evolved from a pastime to a full-blown obsession and business.

He cites 1996 as the DugoutZone’s best year, when a new role-player Pokémon video game started a demand for comic books and game-related trading cards. Hubata was able to spot the trend early, diversifying his stock and keeping local fans supplied.

Yet he maintained a faithful clientele in sports, aided in part by in-store visits from local sports legends. Hubata could charge patrons up to $80 to get items signed by Orioles players Brooks Robinson and Mike Mussina, or Ravens Ray Lewis and Joe Flacco.

Hubata said the store maintained a strong presence in the community. He said star power of athletes such as Robinson compelled people to visit the location, and take part in events such as clothing drives for charity.

But when Ebay debuted in the mid-1990s, the convenience for traders to find authenticated sports memorabilia changed the way people bought items. By 2008, the “handwriting was on the wall,” he said. The housing bubble and recession prompted many people to sell, not buy, autographed jerseys and other items. For those still in the market, the online trade took a hefty chunk.

Moving forward, Hubata said the DugoutZone will embrace the changing market by maintaining its own online presence. He’ll also host special events: a Feb. 9 sale at the Best Western-BWI Hotel in Elkridge will include items signed by Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays,Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron, Gil Hodges, Hank Greenberg, Roy Campanella, Roberto Clemente and more.

Who knows if sales from that event will rival what Hubata said was the most expensive thing he ever sold — a baseball bat owned by Robinson, and signed by 40 of his fellow Baseball Hall of Famers.

Hubata wouldn’t say what the bat fetched in 1998, but hinted it was “five figures.”

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