Local store provides ‘heaven’ for toy collectors

Andrew and Rocio Aquino own the Pop Cave store which sells toys and collectibles, especially Funko Pop! figures. Matt Fernandez/The Signal

Be it art, sports cards or figurines, collecting is a hobby that many people share. Rocio Aquino was able to turn her passion for collecting into a family business.

For two years, Aquino and her husband, Andrew, have owned the Pop Cave store, which sells different kinds of collectible toys and figurines but specializes in the vinyl Funko Pop! Figurines.

Pop! figures are stylized recreations of various pop culture figures across film and television, music, sports and video games, and have even been the subject of the documentary “Making Fun: The Story of Funko.”

Rocio discovered Pop!s after she visited a friend after she had bought a new house and discovered that they had filled the spare bedroom with a collection of the figurines.

“I went into the spare bedroom, and I was like, ‘What are these things?’” she said. “My friend explained them to me, and after I bought my first Pop!, which was Wonder Woman, it was downhill from there. After I discovered that they had things like Superman, Tupac and Biggie, it honestly became like an addiction from there.”

Andrew said he was initially not interested in Pop!s but after he discovered figures based on one of his favorite films, “The Goonies,” he started to purchase figures that reminded him of his childhood.

Rocio would often search for particular character Pop!s with her brother, but could never find them in stores such as Barnes & Noble, Target or Hot Topic. She threw around the idea of setting up a store that specialized in selling both the common and the exclusive, hard-to-find or discontinued figures.

With the encouragement of her husband, she left her job as a casting director and used her life’s savings to open the store in June 2017. After opening the store, the Aquinos brought in most of their 300-piece personal collection to help supplement inventory, though there are some they refuse to sell, like Andrew’s “Goonies” and Ninja Turtles sets, and Rocio’s Tupac.

Though they live in Palmdale, the Aquinos decided to set up shop in Santa Clarita because of the city’s reputation for safety and how central it is for customers in the San Fernando and Antelope valleys.

Angel Aguilar, who lives in San Francisco, discovered Pop Cave through Instagram and came to the store for the first time last year when he stayed in a motel nearby.

“Every time we come out here, we stop by this store,” Aguilar said. “Back in San Francisco, the closest store like this is like an hour away and, even though some comic book shops will have a decent selection, it’s nothing like Pop Cave has.”

The Aquinos’ first store was in an office building in Newhall near the DMV. Unfortunately, that store was difficult to find, and customers would often call saying they could not locate it, prompting Rocio to create a sign with an arrow and stick it outside the building.

Keith Davis is one such customer. He discovered Pop Cave because he saw that sign as he was driving by. Davis, who owns almost 1,000 Funko figures, said he likes Pop Cave’s selection of figures because it allows him to complete collections of older figures that are not widely sold or are out of production.

“A lot of the Funkos that I know about are things from my youth, so I like to collect those,” Davis said. “It’s also something me and my son do together that lets us bond. He’s into it, as well, and I try to do things that he can relate to.”

Fortunately, that hard-to-find location did not have much of an adverse effect on the business, and the Aquinos were able to move to a bigger and more visible storefront on Railroad Avenue a year later.

“We were first-time business owners and didn’t really know what we were doing, and one of our biggest problems was the visibility,” Rocio said. “Fortunately, we still did well that year, which we weren’t expecting. If I had to do it over again, I would have been more confident in our business instead of playing it too safe. Maybe if we had started out in our current location, and we may have been even more advanced than we are now.”

After that first year, Andrew began to work at Pop Cave full time when he was let go from his previous employment. He said the experience was an eye-opener, and he did not realize how much work it would be to run the store. Much of the store’s exclusive stock comes from private collections, and it is often difficult to track down collectors with pieces they are willing to sell.

“Working at the store full time was eye-opening, and I commend Rocio for working here full time by herself and doing it all,” Andrew said. “Had I known how hard it was, I would have been more physically supportive of the business. But now that we’re running the store together, with four eyes watching things instead of two, I feel like the store has taken off even more.”

Though some of the customers come into the store expecting children’s toys, Rocio emphasized that their products are really geared toward adult collectors. While some of their more common products cost as little as $11, some of the more rare figures are valued at hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

“There is an official Funko pricing index that we use that is based on how much the figures sell for on eBay, so it’s really based on what people are willing to pay,” she said. “Some of the people who collect these figures are very particular. I sometimes joke that they’re actually collecting the boxes because you could have a really valuable, beautiful Pop!, but if the box is damaged, they won’t want it because, unless the box is in like mint condition, that decreases the value.”

The Aquinos would like to grow the store and find a space that can accommodate even more inventory, but they still want to keep it a relatively small and manageable operation. Rocio said she would like to carry a more diverse stock of action figures, art prints, pins, patches and toys that would cater to just about anyone who might walk into the store.

“Collecting is like going hunting, and finding that one ultra-rare thing you’re searching for has such a huge feeling of satisfaction,” Rocio said. “It’ll take baby steps, but I would really like to make it more than it is right now. There’s always something to collect, and I’d like the store to be a heaven for all sorts of collectors.”

Pop Cave is located at 25845 Railroad Ave, Suite 6, Santa Clarita.

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