Business

In a San Juan Bautista shopping arcade, not so far, far away

Trouble Maker Toys and Comics opens in Tuccoletta Hall’s Plaza Market.
Neal Velez. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Neal Velez. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Sandwich board on Third Street. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Sandwich board on Third Street. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Star Wars comics and figures, along with vintage collectibles, highlight the inventory of Trouble Maker Toys and Comics, a newly opened store in San Juan Bautista. Tucked in the back of the Plaza Market, at 203 Third Street, the store is a portal into a world of science fiction, fantasy and adventure.

“I have always been somewhat of a collector,” said Neal Velez, who owns the shop with his wife Suzy. “I began with mostly Star Wars items, but I have been collecting all kinds of toys for three decades. I decided recently that it was time to let go of some of them.”

Trouble Maker is the result, where new comics and recent toy releases compete for space with a curated selection of items for sale from Neal’s own collection. 

“Some of the Star Wars figures are mine that I bought almost 25 years ago,” Neal said. “I bought a lot of collectibles back when they had just re-released the film in 1996. I also have Resident Evil items from when the game came out. I just sold some figures from Spawn that were made when the movie came out and we just bought some vintage G.I. Joe stuff from the early 2000s.”

While the initial focus of the store has been on Star Wars items, the Velezes are quickly diversifying, with plans for a wide variety of recent game and movie spin-off items.

“I want to do a variety of everything, not just Star Wars,” Neal said. “I want to have mixed toys, with the majority being new. I want to be sure we can please the majority of children and collectors, boys and girls, not just one group or interest.”

The store hopes to fill a gap in what San Juan Bautista offers among its antique stores, restaurants and gift shops.

“We want to draw attention to kids’ stuff and bring more of it to San Juan,” Suzy said. “When we have walked through town we have noticed there is not enough for the children and the teens. We just want to bring some fun to the younger community—I think that is one thing missing from the town.”

As with every business, COVID-19 has had an impact on the arrival dates of the shop’s inventory, but new items will be coming in steadily over the next few months. 

“There will be a lot of things arriving, like card packs,” Neal said. “And we would like to find a way to host games like Magic: The Gathering. We have also had requests for Pokemon, Marvel items and anime. We want diversity so that even if a whole lot of people don’t buy a particular thing, at least we will still have it.”

Trouble Maker features sets for Warhammer 40,000, the most popular miniature wargame in the world, and hopes to have events for that game, too.

“Warhammer is a game as well as a hobby,” Neal said. “You buy kits to make various armies. You build your army up and you create your own board game, like Dungeons and Dragons. The figures come in plain gray and I want to start having times for kids or adults to come here to learn how to paint them.”

Comic books and graphic novels for young readers are another area of expansion for the store.

“We hope, with our comics and graphic novels, to get them into reading again,” Suzy said. “We would like to see kids getting into actual books instead of what they are finding online.” 

The shop opened on Oct. 30 and plans are for it to be open daily for the foreseeable future.

“We are trying to stay open every day and perhaps start a trend with some of the other stores in town,” Neal said. “We have heard a lot of frustration from customers about coming here and finding a lot of the shops are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.”

With a location at the back of the Plaza Market, the store is something of a hidden treasure.

“We are kind of tucked into a spot at the end of the hallway,” Suzy said. “But when people come through the door and see what we sell, they brighten up. It’s like we are taking them back to their childhood. We hope, even if they don’t buy anything, they will tell other people about us. And the business will come.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink approached me as a photographer by have since encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.