Alex Renowitzky shows off his Panini sticker collection

Alex Renowitzky shows off his Panini sticker collection in Studio 10, On the Coast. (Stephen Quinn)

Every four years in the lead-up to the FIFA World Cup, Panini stickers become a hot commodity.

Collectors from soccer-crazed countries emerge and connect as they try and find a full set of stickers to complete their albums.

This year, the sticker phenomenon has reached Vancouver. 

Alex Renowitzky used to be a collector as a six-year-old in Colombia. But when he came to Vancouver as a refugee, he stopped collecting.

They weren't easy to find here, he says, in contrast to the streets of Colombia, where he recalls trading stickers in the street.

Now for the first time, Renowitzky has completed an entire set —- 642 stickers — which he says he shares with his five-year-old daughter.

They come in packages, says Renowitzky, and it's quite similar to collecting hockey cards.

"When I started the album, you could hardly even find them anywhere. Since about a month ago, they just boomed... in Safeway, in 7-Eleven, Toys R Us, London Drugs, almost every single corner store that you can find."

"Now they're hard to find... mostly because people are buying them by the bunch."

He says people are desperate because they only have a few days before all the collecting and trading ends, and the FIFA World Cup begins.

Renowitzky says there is a big community of Panini sticker collectors in the Lower Mainland, as people find each other through Craigslist, classifieds and emails.

He remembers when he was young, he got in trouble with his parents because he would sneak a couple of dollars out of their wallets to buy stickers.

"The moment you'd get 50 cents you'd run to the corner store... get the package, go home, and open them."

It's not just an activity for kids, he says. At a recent trading session at Robson Square, it was mostly adults over 40.

Renowitzky still has a stack of stickers that he doesn't need, so if you're still collecting, look for him online.