It was PokeNerds owner Brian Trull’s birthday when the war in Ukraine started. As he and his wife, Valeria, watched the conflict unfold, they knew they had to do something. Valeria is from Ukraine, and after debating what to do to help, they decided to go to Poland to provide help directly. The two distributed food and gave toys to the children. This was only the beginning of their helping work, however, and of a piece with the larger goals of PokeNerds to form a community.
PokeNerds (394 Mid Rivers Mall Drive, 636-459-5093), which opened in 2019 as an e-commerce store, sits on the edge of a mall in St. Peters. Kids are spread around the store, debating which plush Pokemon they’ll take home or trading cards. A child shouts the name of each Pokémon to his brother as he browses the shelves, making a difficult decision. Valeria and Brian are sitting behind the counter, waiting to see the family.
The store is popular with kids and their families, Brian says, but they see a wide range of ages enthusiastic about the Pokémon store. With Friday nights dedicated to trade events, the store is building space for Pokemon enthusiasts throughout the region. But they don’t stop there.
The Trulls are still fundraising for Ukraine with a pot dedicated to fundraising for various organizations helping on the ground in the country. There are pins for sale, the proceeds of which also go to Ukraine. Valeria says they’re doing everything they can to help, and so far they’ve raised thousands of dollars.
Ukrainian children will come to visit us, eager to spend time with Valeria.
“Kids think, ‘They’re doing stuff for Ukraine. I’m a Ukrainian kid.’ And they come and it gives them a place where they can maybe feel connected with another Ukrainian person,” says Brian.
Fundraising efforts have also rubbed off on their larger community of Pokémon fans. A girl named Sophie opened her own lemonade and hot dog stand, raising a total of $500 for Ukraine. She entered the store to slip some of the money into the jar.
The community has found a home in the Pokémon Shop, and the Trulls continue to think of ways to continue building on that foundation. Brian says they’re “constantly evolving,” planning to expand the shop to have more space for visitors to play Pokémon battles or throw a birthday party. Another feature they want to offer is that Pokémon Go players compete against a “gym trainer”, one of their employees, on certain days and win a prize. They are also planning a Halloween costume party and other events. Product offerings are also expected to expand.
Ultimately, the Trulls want to have more locations across the country. The community they have built in St. Charles County is something special. They were called the “Disney store of Pokémon” merchandise, Trull says. On top of that and the success of their e-commerce store nationwide, they hope to be able to make their destinations work. It’s a big mission, but they want to fill the need of Pokemon fans.
“If you have a hobby, you want to go somewhere where you can share a hobby and meet other people who also have that hobby and make friends, that’s how you build a community “Brian says. “That’s how you don’t feel isolated and alone. Like, ‘Oh, I’m the only person who likes this stuff.’ We want to open more stores and be able to provide a place of community for more people who love Pokémon.
PokeNerds is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and closed Mondays. Trade events take place on Friday evenings at 6 p.m.