RAVENSWOOD MANSION: Two friends who share a lifelong passion for trading cards and pop culture have opened a store in Ravenswood Manor that specializes in collectible figurines.
Kevin Gerena and Jose Velez opened PandaPops & Collectibles, 4668 N. Manor Ave., in August next to the Francisco Brown Line stop. Shelves are lined with hundreds of Funko POP vinyls! Figures in their original packaging.
Each box has a handwritten price tag. Other collectibles, like action figures of the Foot Clan ninjas from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, sit behind the counter.
Many of the items cost between $20 and $80, but rarer collectibles, like limited-edition Pokémon packs, are over $1,500.
“I really enjoy this and I have a ‘Supernatural’ collection and a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at home,” Velez said. “We are all collectors here, and we can talk to you from that aspect.”
The duo grew up watching “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and “Pokémon,” which allowed them to start collecting trading cards based on those shows, they said.
“I started by opening the base set [card] packages when I was a child,” Gerena said. “Looking back now, gosh, I screwed up those cards, like 1st edition Charizards. She wouldn’t just fold them, she’d either throw them on the concrete or wrap a rubber band around them.”
When Vélez started playing Yu-Gi-Oh! card game with friends, they based the rules of it on what they saw in the cartoon. Once they started attending local card tournaments, they realized that the rules they had invented were not correct, Velez said.
“My friends joked…because on the TV show you summon a big old dragon like it’s nothing, but we realized you can’t do that like that,” Velez said. “We need to learn how to really play this game, how to develop and learn different decks.”
Vélez began to travel to participate in card tournaments in Chicago and later in the United States. He realized that he could turn his interest into a career, he said.
The same thing happened with Gerena, who noticed that Chicago stores were still selling Pokemon cards and hosting local tournaments, he said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, Pokémon is still a thing, and people are very welcoming.’ It’s just a great community,” Gerena said.
Gerena and Velez met while working at a trading card shop in Irving Park and hit it off. Last year, over beers at O’Donovan’s in North Center, the duo had the idea of opening their own store, they said.
“Before we officially opened, we started selling toys out of Jose’s apartment for almost a year. Like the Facebook offers that say, ‘Hey, come to the house. We have XYZ or whatever,’” Gerena said. “It was like a garage sale where we had a lot of shelves in his house.”
Those impromptu events were successful enough for the couple to make their dream come true and start window shopping earlier this year, they said.
The store’s name is a nod to Velez’s interest in pandas, they said.
“I have always liked pandas. It’s just these clumsy animals. One day I got a little drunk, like one, and I even had a panda tattooed on my back,” said Vélez. “I thought about the name all the time, and when we talked about Panda Pops & Collectibles I thought we should do it.”
Velez jokes that like a panda, his perfect day is to hang out living life and eating. When he told Gerena the name, his partner agreed that alliteration would be an advantage, he said.
“I really like this name because we are like them. We like to hang out goofing around,” Velez said.
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