NEW YORK - Nessim Halioua, 41, went nearly 25 years without adding a single baseball card to his childhood collection still sitting organized alphabetically by player last name in his childhood home in Virginia Beach, Va.
"I am teetering on the edge here," he said. "I've got an 800-square-foot apartment in New York City. I'm trying to make it work with my wife. She's already so cool with the shoes and the hats."
Over the winter, some friend of Halioua's—surely with completely altruistic, innocent intentions—decided to hand out 1991 Donruss packs as gifts at a holiday party.
"Mark McGuire," Halioua said, shuffling through the pack he received at that party. "OK, he should be in the Hall of Fame. Nolan Ryan, Hall of Famer. Um, Ken Griffey Jr.?" he added. "I got all these cards and it flooded me back with memories."
Halioua then got in touch with a childhood friend who'd started collecting again in adulthood. "He's telling me about these breaks that happen and auctions, this whole underworld that I didn't know existed."
In a break, hosts open up packs of cards live on YouTube. Customers pay before the break to receive all the cards from a specific team, not knowing which or how many cards they might receive—a gamble that's grown in popularity by as much as 25%, according to some case-breaking websites, since coronavirus lockdowns began.
"The case-breaking phenomenon is absolutely unbelievable," Topps executive David Leiner said.
Leiner credits case-breaking for much of his company's last four years of what he called rocketship growth, heightened even more during the last couple of months of staying at home, after years of stagnancy and decline in the trading card industry.
"That's been a huge portion of the growth," he said.
Many who collected cards as kids kept their binders sitting in boxes and on shelves, hoping one day those cards might be worth something. Instead the card market collapsed.
"Before I went to college," Halioua said, "I was like: 'Mom, Dad, you have to keep these cards in a safe.'"
Halioua has thus far resisted the urge to add to his stash during this card-collecting renaissance, instead remaining focused on cluttering his apartment with collectibles he can wear.
"I keep buying these," he said, holding up a pair of Air Jordans, "and they keep causing problems with my wife."