To the uninitiated, a business called Bricks & Minifigs might suggest a shop where you can buy fine masonry and, perhaps, Ficus carica saplings, but to those in the know, the national chain’s Shops at Wiregrass lifestyle center location (across from Buckle on Paseo Dr.) is the go-to destination for serious devotees of all-things Lego.
It’s a place to buy hard-to-find, gently used Lego model building kits (many of them from collectible retired lines) and original creations ready for display, as well as loose pieces such as interlocking bricks, character figures and a variety of accessories.
According to the Lego company’s Wikipedia entry, about 600 billion of the bricks and related pieces have been manufactured by the Billund, Denmark-based company since 1949, and franchise owner Adam Smyk says there’s no reason any of the blocks should ever end up n a landfill.
“You never want to throw Legos away,” says Smyk, who specializes in buying, selling and trading those random blocks.
Over the more than six decades that Legos have been on store shelves, their cross-generational popularity has remained strong enough that Smyk embarked upon a second career as a Bricks & Minifigs franchisee after serving 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He says he learned firsthand that the value of these toys lies in the experiences created by diving into a pile of the primary-color plastic blocks and creating something.
“When the kids were young and I’d come home from deployment, I’d use Legos as a way to re-connect with them,” he says.
Smyk, who retired from the Navy as a Senior Chief Electrician’s Mate, says he became acquainted with Bricks & Minifigs by shopping at a store in Hawaii while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor. “There was a store there I loved taking my kids to,” he says.
Bricks & Minifigs stores are something of a rarity, with only 38 located throughout the U.S. Smyk has the only such store in Florida.
(Note-Bricks & Minifigs has no formal licensing relationship with The Lego Group.)
Merchandise sold at Bricks & Minifigs includes a mix of assembled and unassembled verified-to-be-complete kits representing a cross-section of licensed themes, such as the “Star Wars” series.
Smyk says that some of the merchandise in his store can cost hundreds of dollars, but there’s plenty to attract customers who are on much stricter budgets, such as display cases full of assembled kits, many of them priced well under $50 (with a large selection under $20), and an extensive line of minifigures (including the popular “Ninjago” series) selling for less than $10.
For fans with big projects on their agendas and who are interested in volume purchases, there are tables full of blocks and parts to scoop up, as well as a design-your-own minifigure (minifig) station for customizing Lego characters.
Smyk is building the business partly on the premise that his personal experience with Legos is shared by other families, a point that he says is often validated in the course of conducting daily commerce.
“We had a family from Memphis, Tennessee, on vacation in Orlando that came all the way over to our store because what they like to do as a family is spread the bricks out and build something together,” Smyk says.
Whether it’s rebuilding a retired Lego Bionicle or Castle set, or manipulating bricks into a personal creation, Legos can supply plenty of indoor recreation during the hot summer days ahead, as well as during power outages that are sometimes part of the season as well. They also can be part of life’s special moments, like birthday parties.
For those who want to celebrate the Lego way, Bricks & Minifigs offers a party space and plenty of Lego pieces to do so. The cost is $175 for a 90-minute party. The venue does not serve food, but does provide plastic utensils for customers who bring their own and — most important, according to Smyk — “we take care of the cleanup.” He says that one of the biggest party attractions is when guests build their own Lego cars and race them on the store’s Lego Derby track.
Smyk’s enterprise involves his family, with adult son Daniel and his girlfriend Jenny Fraley working there, as well as his two younger, elementary-school-age sons, who occasionally help out when they aren’t in school.
For Fraley, providing a good customer experience for everyone who visits is paramount.
“It’s a personal joy of mine, trying to find a piece they’re looking for,” she says.
Fraley and Smyk say Legos have a wide appeal, and attract customers of all ages to the store.
“A lot of our adult customers enjoy them for the relaxation,” Smyk says. “People come in and say, ‘This is my childhood.’”
Thomas Annitto, 18, says he has found some merit in Smyk’s assessment of Legos as more than just a kids’ toy.
“I’ve always played with Legos since I was a little kid,” Annitto says. “This store is the coolest place ever. It’s perfect for little kids and big kids.”
Running his shop, however, is more than just playing around with toys for Smyk. It’s a business in a competitive market and for Smyk, that entrepreneurial lesson sank in when he was searching for a storefront for his shop.
A Pinellas County mall tenancy abruptly ended, and a Brandon location fell through. He says his family business has found a good home among the merchants at The Shops at Wiregrass.
Smyk and his family moved to the Tampa Bay area after he retired from the Navy two years ago. When they researched where on the mainland to move to from Hawaii, the answer was clear to them.
“All the magazines like Forbes and Money listed Tampa among their best places to live,” says Smyk. So, he and his family moved to the area without having previously set foot here. They recently moved to Tampa Palms from a community in southern Hillsborough County.
Smyk opened his Shops at Wiregrass location in March, and it has proven to be a regional customer magnet as a shopping destination. In addition to the aforementioned family from Memphis, the five-star Facebook testimonial by Lakeland resident Harold Joe Strickland Jr. speaks to the business’ regional appeal.
“It was over on hour drive from Lakeland,” Strickland Jr. wrote, “but well worth the drive.”
While a lot of his customers appreciate the distinctive products Bricks & Minifigs offers, Smyk says his used inventory offers great value.
“It’s all good as new,” he says, “but a cheaper cost because it’s used.”
Whether someone is buying, selling or trading a rare, limited edition set or looking for a deal on a bulk order of Lego bricks, the store’s objective is the same, according to Fraley.
“I like to see a smile on someone’s face when they walk out the door,” he says.
Bricks & Minifigs is located at 28210 Paseo Dr., Suite 150. You can learn more, including up-to-date information about new arrivals and special deals, by searching for “Bricks and Minifigs, Tampa” on Facebook, or by visiting BricksandMinifigs.com/store/tampa-florida. You also can call (813) 994-7171 or see the ad on pg. 28 of this issue.