Only one thing was missing.
Like any able entrepreneur, Eric Vasquez — age 10 — figured he’d done everything there was to do before opening day at his store, Connect the Brick & More.
City business license? Check. Landlord satisfied with the agreed rent? Check. Website (connectthebrick.com) up? Check. Merchandise on the shelves, all items priced, credit-card scanner operable and small change ready in the cash box? Check, check, check and check.
And when the door to his small shop at 3901 N. 27th St. opened Friday morning, there they were — the one thing he needed but could not control.
“I will always remember the first customers,” Eric said, beaming, soon after recording an inaugural sale totaling $11.57.
As he spoke, other customers waited.
Eric sells Lego products, both full sets and individual pieces. He’s been selling since he was 9, setting up a card table at local street markets or else located on the sidewalk in front of agreeable Proctor District retailers.
His larger dream came true late last week.
“I was like — I had this idea about selling Legos,” he said. “I went to events six or seven times. I’ve been collecting since I was 4 and I started playing since I was 2. I sold a set of Lego knights that I got for free. That’s when I got the idea.”
He had attended a local convention aimed at collectors and fans of Lego products and he recalls telling himself, “One day I’ll open a shop.”
Back then, he was 8.
Bill Evans owns the Pacific Northwest Shop in the Proctor District and off to the side of his building there’s an exterior door leading to a small space, 89 square feet, that in the past has housed a jeweler and a chocolatier.
Eighty-nine square feet is about the size of the living room and kitchen in a vintage Winnebago.
“I see it as an incubator,” Evans said.
“For small business owners, one of the challenges is to encourage other potential small business owners, just to encourage them,” he said. “That’s what an incubator can do.”
Fifteen other people have lately inquired about setting up a business in the space, but Evans chose Eric Vasquez.
“This kid is something else. He’s a product of Tacoma Public Schools. I’m proud,” Evans said. “I hope he’s up to the challenge. If he stays with it, stays enthusiastic and committed, then it will be a very positive learning experience.”
Carol Pruitt of Tacoma, the jeweler, spent two years in business in the small room.
“Eric’s shop is totally appropriate for the space,” she said last week. “He’s a wonderful young man, and he has a passion and he’s sharing it with others. Just look what he’s done.”
The inside windows are stylishly curtained with ruby-red butcher paper, and the door is a bright, primary yellow. There’s a sandwich board out front, and Lego pieces are strategically placed on the shelves inside, with the least expensive items within easy reach of young hands.
Vasquez said he purchased perhaps 25 percent of his stock at Lego gatherings, “and half of it was mine, and I didn’t want it any more. There’s other stuff I have that I want, stuff I got for Christmas and birthdays, and I’ll keep those.”
He prices his items by checking sales results online. Ask him about any single item, and he’ll tell you the story behind it. Ask him about Legos, and you’d better look for a chair as the answer might take awhile.
They started out as wooden toys ...
It was about a year ago that Eric approached Valla Wagner, co-owner of Teaching Toys and Books, and asked if he could set up a card table to sell Legos. Wagner’s store is located across North 27th Street from the Pacific Northwest Shop and now also across from Vasquez’s store.
“We appreciated his entrepreneurial spirit,” Wagner said. “I think it’s important that when children show an interest in something new, it’s important for adults to support that.
“I think he’s found a niche market,” she said. “This is unusual for 10 years old. To see him stick with this, it’s remarkable.”
“Mr. Evans told me about a lot of things,” Eric said. “Like when people come in, you say ‘Hello.’ Then you say, ‘If you need any help, let me know.’ Don’t let them get scared so they’ll go away.”
Eric said he expects to put half of his profits into a bank account and the other half into the business. He’d like to study engineering in college, and he would especially like to have a career designing Lego products.
His mother, Luisa, teaches Spanish at Mis Amigos, a Tacoma learning center she also owns.
Eric, she said, “likes building things. This is his passion.”
Eric’s father, Tony, is employed as a planner at the City of Tacoma.
“We did everything we could to help him at the market and the sidewalk sales,” the elder Vasquez said. “He’s figured out his prices, and his profit.”
Eric’s parents set three immutable conditions.
First, Tony Vasquez said, “School is your priority. Two, don’t obsess over it. Three, when you have to move on, you have to move on.”
Eric’s mother will run the shop during school hours. Eric will be in the fifth grade at Washington Elementary School this fall.
Like his son, Tony Vasquez praised the help offered by Evans.
“For him to give Eric an opportunity, and choosing him over several other potential tenants, that speaks louder than words. Everything that comes from your heart shows from your actions. He’s giving Eric the opportunity to flourish.”
Eric, he said, ‘believes and thinks things can happen. He says, ‘Dad, this will happen. Dad, this can happen.’ I told him this morning, ‘I’m very proud of you. I’m very proud of the work you’re doing.’”
Eric Vasquez is not alone in spreading the Lego gospel in the Puget Sound region. The weekend also saw the grand opening of the Lego Store at Southcenter, an event featuring various giveaways plus a larger-than-life Hulk made completely from Lego pieces.
Young Eric Vasquez does not seem worried by the competition.
“I like having a job that you really, really, really like,” he said. “I like doing something you love. I like that you get to be with people, and talk about Legos.”
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535