What’s big in Japan now has the potential to be big in the East Valley, thanks to Lulubell Toy Bodega in downtown Mesa.
The store, co-owned by Amy Castillo and Luke Rook, sells unique toys, designer vinyl figurines, off-beat collectibles and prints
Rook started the store in Tucson after falling in love with the designer toy scene in Taiwan. He later found help from his friend, Castillo, who urged him to add an online service to his store.
Castillo, who at the time worked as a general manager for an interior design firm, became so interested in the business that she left her career for it.
Looking for a place that offered a bigger opportunity to grow, Castillo and Rook found Mesa and settled there in December 2011. Looking for an opportunity to host events tied in to the store, Mesa’s downtown scene provided that as well.
“It reminds me of Tucson, I just really liked the vibe down here, very independent,” Castillo said.
Rook decided to call the store Lulubell because that was the nickname his father gave him when he was young. While it was a name he hated growing up, he eventually warmed up to “Lulubell” as the name of the story.
The inside of the store is chock full of colors and various strange collectibles; the toys range from small and cute creatures to big and terrifying monsters from both western and eastern pop culture.
Books about graffiti, plush toys, clothes and prints are other items that can be found.
Castillo said that the store has received a lot of support of both the online and local community. Lulubell sells and ships items all across the globe online, and thanks to Rook spending a great deal of time in Toyko, the store can get rare items available for their customers.
One of the goals of Castillo is for the designer toy movement to grow in the Mesa community. Castillo said that the movement has become more popular in the last two years.
The toys themselves are usually have a limited run, and often are manufactured independently by the artists, Even though many of the toys can appeal to everyone, they are intended more for collectors.
“Customers range from serious collectors to people who buy them as gifts for parties,” Castillo said.
When the store opened in Mesa, it was right as another local pop culture store, Evermore Nevermore, closed its doors. Evermore Nevermore still exists today as an online network and marketplace, and is still involved heavily in the downtown Mesa event scene; but the addition of Lulubell has kept a brick-and-mortar presence for the local pop-culture community on Main Street.
In addition to the international collectibles on site, the work of local artists, like Greg Ham and Sebastien Millon, also grace the store.
Millon, an artist from Paradise Valley, has helped the store by hosting events and providing merchandise. Helping the store has also benefit him in his work as an artist by getting more recognition in the East Valley.
“I’ve actually quite a few of people discover my work at Lulubell,” Millon said.
Ham, an artist from Chandler, is also glad that Lulubell has given him the chance to reach an audience that might not otherwise see his work.
“The relationship has benefited me by being able to support local business,” Ham said.
Castillo said also that the City of Mesa has been very supportive of her business. It was because of the support that she decided to settle on Mesa.
“They were more supportive than other cities and didn’t put roadblocks when it came to setting up shop,” Castillo said.
Support has been so strong that Castillo is thinking of offering classes and do more events for the community.
“We really see ourselves growing our store and the movement in the future,” Castillo said.
What: Lulubell Toy Bodega
Where: 128 W. Main St., Mesa
Abel, a senior studying journalism at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.