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Sunday, October 07, 2007

My favorite toy bodega

In the second part of what's turning out to be a Where's P-Mac series of things I like in Tucson, I'm going to introduce the masses to LuLuBell Toy Bodega.

LuLuBell Toy Bodega is one of my favorite places in Tucson because it's one of the few places where I don't feel like I'm in Tucson. It has the urban-artistic-cool that I haven't found in any other Tucson store.

I'm going to let this article I wrote for a class last spring do the rest of the talking...

Upon entering LuLuBell Toy Bodega, 429 N. Sixth Ave., a Jesus Christ action figure in a full astronaut suit, toy rabbits smoking cigarettes, and bizarre, plastic monsters indicate this might not be your average toy store.

The 29-year-old store owner with shaggy hair, piercings galore and tendrils of tattooed vines creeping up his neck confirms that this is no ordinary store..

The toys are technically called “urban vinyl,” according to the store owner Luke Rook, but describing the product Rook also labels as “sheer randomness” is not easy.

“It’s surreal sculpture with a sense of humor,” said Dawn Tenebruso, a nurse, who has about 60 pieces of the art scattered throughout her house.

“It’s an addiction,” said Adan Delagarza, a photography senior at the University of Arizona, who estimates he has accumulated 75 to 100 pieces in the two years he has been collecting.

The toys range in size from one inch to three feet and are priced from $4 to $400.

They are all works of various artists, some who solely produce toys and others who have gotten into the toy market after working with more traditional forms of art.

The store has books by several artists, urban-art magazines such as Juxtapoz, related comic books and other pieces of literature that relate to the store’s product.

“I’m always online looking up new toys and new companies. It’s something I love, so it’s not really work,” said Rook, who offers a diverse selection of urban vinyl to appeal to all of his customers.

His primary clientele consist of middle-aged, affluent men who look to “recapture their childhood” by frequently buying new toys, according to Rook, who is also the store’s sole employee.

“I feel like a little kid opening a box of Cracker Jacks. It’s kinda dorky that I get this excited over toys,” said Tenebruso.

Rook opened LuLuBell Toy Bodega four years after returning from a two-year stay in Taiwan, where he taught English. He said the Taiwanese were much more passionate about collecting toys and that is where his love for toys began.

Before opening his own store, Rook’s résumé included telemarketing, selling siding for Sears, delivering pizza, body piercing and being a romance specialist at Fascinations.

“I never knew I was going to open a toy store,” said Rook, who was born and raised in Tucson.

He opened the store after growing tired of traveling to Los Angeles and San Francisco to bring back bags of toys. LuLuBell Toy Bodega is currently the only urban vinyl store in Arizona, according to Rook.

Rook’s own personal collection contains around 1,000 pieces.

“I have stuff in the shower, in the medicine cabinet, in the fridge and in the freezer. I like to put (the toys) in places that I look. When you open up your fridge and you’re moving toys to get the juice, it has more of a personal touch.” Rook said.

Rook named the store in homage of his late father who called him “Lulu bell” when he was a child.

LuLuBell Toy Bodega has been in its current location in the art district on Sixth Street and Sixth Avenue for the past five months. Originally, Rook opened his shop on the corner of Sixth Street and Campbell Avenue.

“I totally miss the hot pink and lime green,” said Rook, reminiscing on his first store’s lively color scheme. “But this store (attracts more customers) and it has a more open atmosphere,” said Rook on the high ceilings and wall-sized windows of his new store.

Rook hosts events at his store at least once a month. The events display new toys or showcase various types of art produced by locally or nationally recognized artists. Rook uses music to set the ambience for the evening. At his last event, a live disc jockey controlled the musical atmosphere.

“I try to bring a bunch of groups together and expose them to different kinds of art,” Rook said.

His biggest event was an auction featuring dolls customized exclusively for the event by urban artists. Rook said about 500 people attended the event throughout the night and he donated a portion of the proceeds to a local non-profit organization.

Rook is passionate about his shop and is able to provide a detailed history of each toy in the shop.

Rook has enjoyed his entrepreneurship, “It’s interesting to see all the walks of life who can appreciate sheer randomness.”

I've attended two of Luke's galleries and they were both incredible if you like art at all or just seeing different walks of life you should definitely go to one of Luke's galleries. The first one I went to featured an artist's whose name I have since forgotten, but I do remember admiring some the art while eating some pound cake and drinking the room temperature Tecates that Luke offered the patrons.

The second gallery I attended was for Chirs Dacre's "War is Fun" felt-art installation. The walls of the shop were covered in massive felt murals of wild creatures engaging in war. Aside from the overwhelming art it was cool to see the different types of fans, which included a man wearing a wig, spaghetti strap top, long skirt and roller skates.

LuLuBell Toy Bodega is worth a visit and if I wasn't scrapping along with a college budget I'd be waist-deep in an urban art addiction. The only toy I've ever bought is this little sneaker head, which proudly stands among my Dennis Rodman figurine collection.


Kelsian Cooley said...

Can I buy the figurine from you?