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Within 30 minutes of opening on the Monday morning after Kobe Bryant's death, South Bay Baseball Cards was cleaned out of its Bryant collectibles, including jerseys which sold for $8,000. Owner Ian Allen stands in front of an empty wall where Bryant Jerseys once hung. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

There are large empty spaces on the walls inside South Bay Baseball Cards these days.

A little over two weeks ago, Kobe Bryant jerseys graced the walls of the Lomita sports collectibles store.

But Bryant memorabilia, from jerseys to basketball cards, disappeared quickly from Ian Allen's Lomita store and website within hours of the news that the Los Angeles Lakers icon, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others perished in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.

“We did not go onto the sites that day and withdraw items or raise the prices,” said Allen, who opened SBBC in 1986. “We left everything exactly the way it was.”

SBBC was closed on Sunday, Jan. 26, the day of the crash. But, the next day, there was a line of people waiting for the store to open at 10 a.m.

By 10:30 a.m., the higher-end memorabilia, such as Bryant jerseys, photos and basketballs, was gone.

The biggest sale, said Allen, was a Kobe jersey that went for $8,000. The SBBC owner said comparable jerseys were selling for upwards of $12,000 online.

“The phone was ringing off the hook. What do you have?,” Allen said.

By Tuesday, Jan. 28, Allen said the store was cleaned out. They sold approximately 400 Bryant cards.

“It was driven by emotion,” said Allen. “We all watched him grow up; we watched him evolve. He was a mensch, he was a man among men. I never got to meet him, I wish I had, but I felt like a lost a friend. I think a lot of our customers felt the same way.”

A few miles west, in Hermosa Beach, Jaspy's Case Breaks had just celebrated a grand opening of its sports memorabilia store the day before the Kobe Bryant tragedy.

Owner Mike Jaspersen put out about a dozen Bryant basketball cards that Saturday. None of them sold.

The following day, the Sunday of the helicopter crash, Jaspersen opened the store at 11 a.m., but hadn't yet heard of the tragedy.

As soon as he opened, a man and his son came in and bought one Bryant basketball card. Then another man and his son came in and bought the rest of the Bryant cards for around $7,000 to $8,000. Cards of lesser value, that were in a bargain box, eventually sold out that day as well.

Jaspersen estimates those cards have already doubled or tripled in value.

“He thanked me for not raising the prices,” Jaspersen said, of one of the buyers. “What am I going to do, take them out of his hand? I wouldn't have raised (the prices) anyway.”

A few weeks after Bryant's death, Jaspersen said he has not purchased any of the star's items for the store. Jaspersen thinks the market for Bryant memorabilia will settle down.

“They will flood the market if they resell, especially on eBay,” Jaspersen said.

Allen of SBBC said Bryant's popularity crossed all lines of collectibility, and “everybody wanted a Kobe item before the tragedy.”

“I don't know where our merch will come from in terms of autograph memorabilia," Allen said. "It will have to come from the collecting community."

Allen added some dealers might hold back Bryant merchandise assuming it will help drive demand.

"Now we've seen a slight softening because a lot of merch hit the market all at one time and only so much of it can be absorbed," Allen said. "But the demand will be there forever.”

A public memorial service for Bryant and his daughter Gianna will take place Monday, Feb. 24, beginning at 10 a.m., at Staples Center. The date corresponds with Bryant's jersey number and the No. 2 worn by Gianna, according to NBA.com.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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