WAUPUN — As a child Tom Kulczewski dreamed of being a baseball player, or a dealer of baseball cards. Both dreams came true as Kulczewski enjoyed a 10-year stint in the minor league baseball and recently opened Real Sportscards Wisconsin at 324 E. Main St. in Waupun.
Tom and his wife, Michelle, had their fourth child, a boy named Malix in 2016. He was born the same day his favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series on Nov. 2. Malix was born with Down syndrome and heart defects, leading Michelle to be a stay-at-home mother.
“Going through that, you really have to re-evaluate what’s important in life, and what you need for a support system,” said Tom. “Our little guy has inspired all of this and I never want to lose sight of that.”
Kulczewski co-started a Facebook group called Real Breaks with Ryan Holland in fall of 2016. Sport card breaks, or “breaks” are when a single person or business buys an entire box of sports cards, then charges individual collectors for the opportunity to “buy in” and keep a selection of cards from the box. Kulczewski and Holland sold and livestreamed opening packs of sports cards as a way to make extra income.
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Real Breaks was running smoothly enough that by 2018, he and Michelle decided to take the plunge by quitting his job and moving to Lomira to be closer to family. Real Breaks became their main income.
The Kulczewskis lived in a three-bedroom apartment in Lomira for about a year where one bedroom was for him and Michelle, kids in another and the business in the third. The plan was to save enough money to buy a house in Brownville and operate the business out of the basement.
Real Breaks kept growing enough that by September of 2020 he bought a building in Waupun. The historic structure at 324 E. Main St. now houses Real Sportscards Wisconsin. It currently employs seven full-time and two part-time team members.
The shop carries baseball, basketball, football, wrestling, soccer and Pokemon cards. Hockey cards are a goal still in progress.
“We also carry any kind of supplies for cards, and just a little autographed memorabilia,” Kulczewski said. “Every month, we set new records and it just grows, and grows, and grows at an unbelievable pace. We’re easily the largest sports card seller in the state of Wisconsin. We also received the ‘Breaker of the Year’ award the last two years from Beckett (an industry giant) at its Industry Summit.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic started in March of 2020, it forced layoffs and many were searching for jobs. However, Tom’s business didn’t seem to take a hit and thrived in the heart of the pandemic.
“COVID was scary in the baseball card world at first because you thought everyone is being laid off, the world is coming to an end,” he said. “No one is coming to buy baseball cards and all of this is worthless. Well, the exact opposite happened in the baseball world where the baseball cards for a long time were trending upwards. The pandemic really made it go crazy.”
The upstairs of the business’ new home was described as “a disaster.”
“There was no electrical, no plumbing and it was full of trash,” said Kulczewski.
The space has been transformed with exposed beams, skylights, comfortable furniture a large television, and a kitchenette. The design is trendy but comfortable. That space now has offices for employees to ship and do online breaking of cards, while also providing a hangout area for potential buyers and card enthusiasts.
“What I feel sets us apart is the experience that we offer upstairs for our clients,” said Kulczewski. “If you’re a collector you’re encouraged to go upstairs, open the box and enjoy the hobby and enjoy each other.”
A week ago the card shop on the ground floor was opened and the renovations upstairs were revealed as well.
“People have said, ‘I love how relaxed and how great it feels up here,’ and ‘We love that you have every product,’” said Kulczewski. “We have products for all ages and income levels. We have packs of cards for $3 or we have cases of cards for $25,000 and everything in between. We really want to make it not only a fun place for kids and people in the community to go to, but the true thing is a destination that people drive an hour or two hours to buy boxes and cases.”
Mayor Julie Nickel was especially enthusiastic about the shop, which she toured recently. She was, in fact, so impressed that she nominated the business for the Waupun Area Chamber of Commerce Waupunies Mayor’s Choice Award. That honor was presented on March 24 at The Rock Golf Club.
Nickel stated in her nomination and at the event, “Waupun’s business community has seen a unique and exciting addition this year. The mayor’s choice this year has made a significant investment in a historic downtown property, and uses an innovative business model that includes a strong e-commerce platform which performs well in our present economic climate. This business has provided Waupun with strong leadership and vision, contributing to a forward-looking Waupun that is enhancing the business climate in the region and positions Waupun as a destination for consumers seeking unique products and services. We are so glad to have Real Sportscards Wisconsin in Waupun.”
Shop hours are Wednesday through Friday from noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 6 p.m. The store is closed Monday and Tuesday.
Reporter Mark McMullen contributed to this article