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Friday, Dec 1, 2023


About 30 kids move up and down a row of tables, heads bent. Some leaf through binders with cards neatly mounted in plastic sleeves, while others clutch stacks of loose cards. “I’ll trade you this Dragon Knight,” one girl of about 12 offers. “I already have one,” answers a younger boy of about 7. In a bygone era kids this age might have been swapping baseball cards, but this is 1999 and it’s Pokemon trading night, a weekly event sponsored by Collectors Guide in Sherman Oaks and its Canoga Park outpost, Pokemon Express. On Thursdays in Sherman Oaks and Tuesdays in the store’s Westfield Shoppingtown Topanga Plaza location, the retailer offers kids the chance to get real-life experience in the art of negotiation. In the process, the store has boosted sales and earned the kind of goodwill money can’t buy. The trading cards were originally conceived as a card game that grew out of Pokemon creator Nintendo Inc.’s video games, but many kids grew impatient with playing and began collecting the cards instead. A number of companies, including Japanese and European firms along with the American licensee, Wizards of the Coast Inc., produce different types of cards for each of the 150 Pokemon characters, making the number of cards available almost limitless. “It’s like a popularity contest in school,” said K.C. Dhiraj, manager of the store. “If you get a lot of the best cards, you’re a popular guy in class.” Kids can get the best cards by buying them, at anywhere from 50 cents for a plain card to $150 for an elaborate holographic design, or they can trade with one another to fill in their collections. A slew of Pokemon merchandise from video games to T-shirts is expected to ring up about $1 billion in sales this year. At Collectors Guide, about 30 percent to 40 percent of sales are Pokemon related. That’s all the more impressive considering that, unlike previous toy crazes when the average purchase might have been $10 or more, the average individual sale for these cards is only about $3 or $4. At Topanga Plaza, where the store’s outpost is only two months old, mall officials like the idea so much they are promoting store on their outdoor marquee. That’s unusual for the mall, which typically limits its promotional support to those larger stores that pay into the center’s marketing fund. As a small kiosk, Pokemon Express makes no contribution. “Quite a bit of sales are generated by people walking through the center and seeing that,” said Janine Baker, marketing director for the mall. “My hope is, the traffic will also benefit our other tenants like Warner Bros., Software Etc. and KB Toys.” Dhiraj originally offered classes in the Pokemon card game, but he soon found kids were not very interested in learning the somewhat complex rules. So about two months ago, he began setting aside a night for trading. Over the summer, Dhiraj said, the lines wound down Ventura Boulevard, though the crowds have thinned somewhat since school started. If a kid is unhappy with a trade, Dhiraj will step in and try to work out a better deal. Once, he observed adults trading younger children stickers for cards. The younger kids couldn’t differentiate between the shiny stickers and the more elaborate cards, which also have sparkly designs. Dhiraj stepped in and stopped it. “You start off making that mistake and you never make that mistake again. I think it’s a really great experience,” he said. “You’re going to come out of the trading experience much wiser than when you walked in.”

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