photo courtesy of Erin Picken
Tricky’s Pop Culture Emporium
December 2, 2022
Tacoma is home to many strange attractions and places, as any Tacoman can attest to. On every main street, on every avenue, there is a place with a story, and people with something to say.
Tricky’s Pop Culture Emporium lays behind a small store front, just a door and a small window. Big yellow letters on the window and the sign propped out on the sidewalk invite you to peer into the hobby turned store of Tricky. The dated architecture of the Stadium District adds a nice atmosphere to the area outside the store, and the inside truly feels like a careful passion project.
Tricky, a Tacoma resident, has run her emporium for over sixteen years. Through her ownership, she transformed her store from a closet-sized area rented out for a meager price, having “only about a twentieth of what we have now,” to a grand memorial dedicated to her love of pop culture.
Within Tricky’s there lies an incalculable number of toys, comic books, dvds, clothes and even limited edition items. When asked about how she goes about gathering and collecting so many items, she proudly stated that “I very rarely say no. When someone has some toys to sell, people come in and sell me their toys, or I go out and get them. When someone calls offering toys or trinkets, I’ll take them all.” Tricky also has several toy connections, such as being able to buy them “from distributors, like a regular store.” Tricky also uses the community to her advantage by scouring “church rummage sales, yard sales, thrift stores and basically anywhere you can get anything.”
While some may look at toys and media as just a hobby, Tricky has dedicated her life to her passion. “If I’m not here, I’m out shopping. If I’m home, I’m online shopping trying to find bargains and cool things for the store,” she said. “It’s quite the seven day a week all day endeavor, but I happen to love it, which helps.”
Over her years of toy and memorabilia collection, Tricky has gathered some quite interesting items. When asked about the rarest things she’s ever been offered, she recounted “the strangest thing anyone’s ever sold me was some props from the T.V. show Lost. I said ‘where did you get these?’ and he says he lived in Hawaii, where they filmed it, and he found them on a beach!” After a laugh, she recalled “Another interesting collection was from a family who inherited an absolutely astounding Garfield collection that was incredible, I mean, so much stuff. Your mind would wobble.” Touching back on her lack of pickiness, she claimed that “the family didn’t want me just to pick out only the best stuff, but no, that’s my policy! I just have to take stuff! So I took it all, and I still have a garage full of Garfield, y’know? I mean, Christ, when am I ever gonna sell all this Garfield! But who knows, maybe one day the world’s greatest Garfield collector might stop by.”
When approached with the idea of a small business oriented solely towards toys and memorabilia, one may think that the store would never take off. Tricky dispels these rumors, saying that she gets “a whole lot of customers, especially around Christmas time, we’ll be packed. We’ll have 15, 20 people here all day. It’s like that on weekends too; very busy on weekends.” Some days can be slow, but Tricky thinks these days are vital, saying “I have to get work done, I gotta restock the shelves and sort the new merchandise that’s come in, clean and polish it if needed, shop online as well. That takes up a lot of time.” It can be unpredictable though, since “sometimes we’ll [have] a super busy Thursday or Tuesday, and then slow for a few days.” Tricky takes great pride in her work and passion for the store, stating that “I’m pretty proud of the store, and I’m pretty proud of our selection. We have quite, quite the selection.”
Across the United States, COVID-19 impacted almost all small businesses greatly, and Tricky’s was no exception. “We were closed. We were certainly closed just like everyone else,” she said. “During the lockdown, I used that time to get a lot of the little nagging jobs done that needed to get done that take a lot of time, like sorting legos. Good lord, that takes a lot of time, and since those had been piling up, I was able to sort all of them.” When it comes to the store, Tricky “gave [the facade] a fresh coat of paint. We mopped the floors, we did all those things that I just never had the time for. And then once we reopened after lockdown, I was amazed and thrilled that we were so busy! We were so busy, and basically have been ever since. COVID was almost a jumping off point. Post COVID, we’ve been doing pretty good.”
Tricky has a very unique sense of style and said “I am a transwoman. I wasn’t always; when I started, y’know.” After a chuckle, she continued. “That’s another thing COVID did, y’know? Gave us a lot of time to think. So I thought COVID is here. Maybe I get it? Maybe I die, y’know? And maybe I don’t have time for the things I thought I had time for.” After a pause, Tricky said, “So I decided to transition during COVID, and after COVID was over my transition began to now the magnificent creature you see before you.” When asked about the community’s reaction to her transition, she felt “there was some confusion. Some confusion. I also got a lot of nice support from a lot of nice customers. No one was really ‘hostile’ or anything like that. Again, some were confused; puzzled, another word. But there hasn’t really been any hostility because it’s an amazing store, y’know, and I’m here to bring joy to any shopper who comes in.” Tricky knew she was “treading into strange waters, but thankfully I would say the vast majority of my customers were very supportive and continue to be.”
One might think that sixteen years of running a small business seven days a week would wear anyone out, and many would quit from burnout. But Tricky feels, in a lighthearted way, that “I’ve got nowhere else to go! When your back’sagainst the wall you can find a way to make it work. I have no desire to return to my previous job in the world of social work and I really don’t have any other skills, apart from the ability to reach things on a high shelf, y’know? That’s basically my skill set. I just had to find a way to make it work.”
Tricky was asked to reflect on her favorite parts or experiences of her job from across the last sixteen years, and after a bit of thinking, she popped up and explained, “My favorite experiences are when people come in with treasures; and say they’re in a tub or in a box, and they come in and I have no idea what’s in that tub or that box, could be anything. And this is exciting every single time. I love looking in the tub and seeing what’s in there; I love going to people’s houses and sorting through the wonderful things.” Tricky, radiating with humor, laughs and says, “I definitely have some hoarding tendencies which I have weaponized for good! I absolutely love buying things, collections, people’s toys. Selling ‘em? Eh! It’s okay. It’s not the real thrill; the thrill is the buying! Selling just fuels my need to stock my shelves.”
As for closing remarks, Tricky smiled and laid an accusation against Colonel Mustard and his murder that took place in the dining room. But after a quick giggle, she composed herself and told me that “it has been my pleasure to bring some smiles to kids of all ages for the past sixteen years, and I hope we can continue for the next sixteen!” She continued,“You want to know what my favorite part is? I’ll tell you what my favorite part is. Growing up, I had four brothers, so time with my dad was rare; just me and my dad. But every now and then, my dad would take just me to the toy store and we’d look around, and I’d find a toy, and my dad would buy it for me. Those are my favorite memories. Now, whenever I’m here and I see a dad or a mom come in with their child and have a special moment where the child goes ‘Hey dad, come look at this!’ Y’know? It’s just such a treat for me, and that is my favorite part of this whole thing, is when I can recreate what made me so happy as a kid, with kids today. There ya go.”
This piece was originally published in Inkwell’s Kitchen Sink Issue.