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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Saturday, August 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Everett’s Funko headquarters a pop culture nerd paradise

By Tyler Wilson For The Spokesman-Review

On its busier days, a line forms outside the Funko flagship store and corporate headquarters in downtown Everett. At the front of the line, a Funko bouncer (just a friendly employee) explains the store is “at capacity,” which to some could spark vivid memories of being trampled by strangers at a Walmart on Black Friday.

Luckily “at capacity” means something different at Funko. After a brief wait, shoppers enter the 17,000 square-foot store to discover a relaxed atmosphere. The Funko store better compares to a finely curated museum devoted to pop culture – and most everything can be purchased for less than $15 a pop (or in many cases, Pop!).

Even those unfamiliar with the name Funko probably know some of the licensed products created by the Washington-born company. Their vinyl bobbleheads and Pop! figures grace the shelves of both big box superstores and novelty gift shops across the world. The Pop! Vinyls (with most standing around 3.75 inches tall) are especially notable for their giant heads, stylized cartoon designs and button-like black eyes.

Almost every facet of pop culture has been Funko’d – “Star Wars,” Disney, Harry Potter, Marvel and DC Comics to name a few. Professional sports stars, famous musicians, “Saturday Night Live” characters and even Bob Ross have all received the Funko treatment.

Since the company’s launch in 1998, Funko itself has amassed the kind of devoted fans generally associated with its more popular licensors. Many hunt for rare “retired” vinyl figures while others try to secure all the exclusive products made available at fan conventions such as San Diego Comic Con and E3. Casual collectors can pursue more attainable exclusives at retailers like Target, GameStop and Hot Topic.

Much of the appeal boils down to affordability, as common Pops! retail between $10-$15 and other Funko product lines run even cheaper. The Pops! also come in stackable boxes with large plastic viewing windows for easy display.

The origins of Funko and its fandom recently received the documentary treatment too. “Making Fun: The Story of Funko,” is available for streaming on Netflix, and the roughly 90-minute film offers a sincere portrait of its diverse community of collectors.

In many respects, the Everett headquarters is more a gift to fans than just a place to peddle more than 13,000 assortment of products. The store, which opened in August 2017, serves as a tourist hub thanks to a collection of giant, richly-detailed Funko statues and environments from its most popular licenses.

The outside of the 90,000-square-foot building, which also serves as workspace for 300 employees, includes a collection of giant Pop! statues atop the awnings that flank the entry into the first floor storefront. Batgirl, Groot, Sully from “Monsters, Inc.” and others reside there while Batman and Spider-man guard the street atop the skywalk connecting the building to a parking garage.

The store itself is divided into various pop culture worlds featuring familiar environments and more giant statues, with some figures standing as tall as 10 feet. A castle set houses hundreds of Disney related products; the snowy landscape of Hoth features “Star Wars” characters both notable and obscure; and the Godzilla-guarded cityscape segment contains all sorts of modern anime and gaming-related products as well as more nostalgic cartoon brands like “Looney Tunes” and “Rugrats.”

Among the numerous photo opportunities:

A Pop!-style Deadpool statue lays on top of a life-size Chimichanga food truck.

A massive Incredible Hulk breaks through a building wall to face Tony Stark in his even-larger Hulkbuster Iron Man suit.

A full size replica of the Batmobile from the 1960s “Batman” television series includes an open seat for fans to sit next to Adam West.

A snarling Pop! style wampa faces off against an upside-down Luke Skywalker in a Hoth snow cave.

Larger-than-life “Harry Potter” characters, jailed Batman villains and more.

With so many products available in one place, many visitors find themselves carrying two overstuffed shopping baskets to collect their loot. There’s an entire corner of exclusive products, including alternate color, 8-bit video game-style “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Zodiac sign iterations of the company’s mascot, Freddy Funko, and a Count Chocula and Franken Berry vinyl figure two-pack, just to name a few.

If humongous superhero statues and rows upon rows of toys aren’t enough to excite all ages of pop culture nerds, the store’s Pop! factory will inspire many to make several return trips.

For just $15, kids and adults alike can build their own Freddy Funko or Funko Monster Pop! figure utilizing dozens of different body parts and accessories. Monster heads come in several colors while both Freddy and the beasts can wield items like ice cream cones, baseball bats and more. Horns, tails, masks, glasses, claws, giant cowboy hats, crowns, etc. are available to customize your own 1 of 1 Funko collectible. When finished snapping the creation together, an employee wraps them in its own Build-a-Freddy display box.

Said activity enthralled this particular 34-year-old Funko fan, his patient wife and three extremely active offspring, ages 3-7. The store’s flimsy definition of “at capacity” meant there was plenty of time to get our creations just right. You’re only allowed one custom build per person, per visit, thus increasing the likelihood of return visits.

Some might scoff at the idea of a retail outlet being a worthwhile tourist destination. Yes, most of the products at the store can be obtained via online retailers. There aren’t rides or animatronics or performances, and the photo opportunities aren’t of the natural world.

But even as a multi-million dollar entity, Funko celebrates the passion many of us have for pop culture and the entertainment that captured our imaginations during childhood. These “nostalgia” properties provide joy and continue to inspire new creative pursuits. It allows adults to share those experiences with their own children, and for teens to bring their parents up-to-date on whatever the big deal is about “Rick and Morty.”

One of the company’s taglines is “Everyone is a fan of something,” and the checkout line at the Funko store certainly proves that. You can be holding a Woody from “Toy Story” Pop! while the person in front of you buys a Motley Crue set. The guy behind you found the Russell Wilson Pop! up front and buys it alongside a strange samurai-looking character from some video game not named “Super Mario Bros.”

The world of pop culture is so huge and mainstream that it can include practically everyone. The passions may be vastly different, but the passion itself is shared.

Of course those passionate about “Star Wars” and superheroes may walk out of the Funko store with way less money.

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