Friends who grew up playing Yu-Gi-Oh! And Pokémon Card Games is opening a collectibles shop in Ravenswood Mansion

RAVENSWOOD MANOR – Two friends who share a lifelong passion for trading cards and pop culture have opened a Ravenswood Manor boutique specializing in collectible figurines.

Kevin Gerena and Jose Velez opened Panda Pops & Collectibles, 4668 N. Manor Ave., in August next to the Francisco Brown Line stop. The shelves are lined with hundreds of Funko POP! figurines in their original packaging.

Each box has a handwritten price tag. Other collectibles, such as Foot Clan ninja action figures from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, sit behind the counter.

Most items cost between $20 and $80, but the rarest collectibles, such as limited-edition Pokemon packs, top out at $1,500.

“I really like it and I have a ‘Supernatural’ collection and a bunch of ninja turtles at home,” Velez said. “We are all collectors here, and we can tell you about that aspect.”

The duo grew up watching “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and “Pokémon,” which led them to collect trading cards based on those shows, they said.

“I started to open the basic set [card] packs when I was a kid,” Gerena said. “Thinking about it now, my goodness, I ruined those cards, like the first edition Charizards. I wasn’t just folding them, but throwing them on the concrete or wrapping cards with a rubber band.

When Velez started playing Yu-Gi-Oh! card game with friends, they based their rules on what they saw in the cartoon. Once they started participating in local card tournaments, they realized the rules they had set weren’t right, Velez said.

“My friends joked…because on the TV show you just summoned a big old dragon like nothing, but we realized you can’t do it like that,” Velez said. “We have to learn how to actually play this game, develop and learn different decks.”

Velez began traveling for card tournaments across Chicago and then across the United States. He realized he could turn his interest into a career, he said.

The same goes for Gerena, who realized that stores in Chicago were still selling Pokémon cards and hosting local tournaments, he said.

“I was like, ‘Oh, Pokémon is still a thing, and people are so welcoming.’ It’s just a cool community,” Gerena said.

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
A few of the unboxed Funko POPs! figurines on display at PandaPops & Collectibles.

Gerena and Velez met while working at a trading card store in Irving Park and hit it off. Last year, while grabbing beers at O’Donovan’s in North Center, the duo hit on the idea of ​​opening their own shop, they said.

“Before we officially opened, we started selling toys in Jose’s apartment for almost a year. Like Facebook deals saying, ‘Hey, come home. We’ve got XYZ or what have you'” “It was kind of like a garage sale where we had a lot of shelves at his house,” Gerena said.

These impromptu events were successful enough that the couple realized their dream and started window shopping earlier this year, they said.

The store’s name is a nod to Velez’s interest in pandas, they said.

“I’ve always loved pandas. It’s just these clumsy animals. One day I got a little drunk, like we do, and even got a panda tattoo on my back,” Velez said. “I thought about the name forever, and when we talked about Panda Pops & Collectibles, I thought we should.”

Velez jokes that like a panda, his perfect day is to live and eat. When he pitched Gerena’s name, his partner agreed that the alliteration would be an advantage, he said.

“I really like that name because we’re like them. We like to blunder,” Velez said.

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