On a rare, clear and bright winter day in Tacoma’s charming Proctor District, two men stand on the sidewalk near the corner of North 27th Street and Proctor chatting. As it turns out, the two men, father and grandfather to a young man by the name of Eric Vasquez, aren’t just enjoying the spectacular weather—they have no choice but to stand outside. Eric’s store, Connect the Brick, is filled to capacity.
When Connect the Brick first opened, there were maybe two display shelves, Eric tells us. Today one can see that almost every inch of the 89-square-foot store is stocked floor to ceiling with all things LEGO, from complete sets to individual pieces to miniature figures, or “minifigs” as they’re called by collectors. There are even LEGO curtains on the windows.
Eris is pretty busy on weekends, greeting each of his customers, showing off the latest merchandise and evaluating the trade-ins brought in by eager and excited kids. Parents observe their children exchange words and LEGO pieces with the young entrepreneur with something akin to admiration, but definitely with delight. Watching children engage in the serious activities of buying, selling and trading is almost as rare as, well, the aforementioned unicorn. But that is part of what attracts children and adults alike to Connect the Brick.
Luisa tells us that one mom told her that the reason her daughter enjoyed visiting the store so much was because she enjoyed the fact that “she was doing business with another kid.”
And yes, the LEGO Boy is only in his first year of middle school, and yes, his eyes light up when he discusses the colorful plastic bricks and minifigs he has built his business on, but when it comes to Connect the Brick, Eric is just as much a businessman as billionaire Mark Cuban.
Before he opened Connect the Brick, he was displaying his wares on a card table outside of the Teaching Toys and Books store across the street from his current storefront. But even then, he knew he would one day have a storefront to call his own. “I started selling LEGO when I was nine and I opened the store when I was ten,” says Eric. “It was a dream of mine.”
There were 15 people ahead of Eric on the list of people interested in renting the space, but landlord Bill Evans recognized in Eric a kindred spirit. Luisa and Eric tell us that Evans was also a young entrepreneur who used to sell Peruvian ponchos at Pike Place Market; Evans told the Vasquez family that Eric reminded him of himself as a young boy. So instead of a smoothie shop or ice cream parlor, the teeny tiny corner of Evans’ building is serving as the first of what will probably be many businesses run by a young man by the name of Eric Vasquez.
Aside from doing well at school, going to swimming practice, and running his own business, Eric has big plans. Coming up for the young entrepreneur is BrickCon in Seattle, a LEGO convention billed as “a LEGO Hobbyist-Built Display open each October at the Seattle Center.” It usually takes a few years on the waiting list to be approved as a BrickCon vendor, but Eric applied and was accepted for this year’s convention.
When Eric speaks about his future beyond BrickCon, and possibly beyond Connect the Brick, it is obvious that it is his passion for LEGO that makes his business such a success: “What I love about LEGO is that there are no limits. You can create a minifig. You can create a 12-foot Statue of Liberty. You can create a tree. There are no limits on your imagination.”
He’s not exactly sure what he wants to do later in life, but he knows he would really like to continue being in business for himself and he would love for that business to involve toys. We’re pretty sure he will have no trouble being successful in business as an adult if he’s thriving in business now . . . before he’s even old enough to drive.
Connect the Brick is located at 3901 N. 27 Street in Tacoma. For more information, call 253-627-5322 or visit the Connect the Brick website.