I was one of the lucky 30,000+ people that managed to get into the Official Pokemon Centre Pop-Up shop that was located, right here in good ol’ London, and here’s my review of the shop a little while later.
The First Attempt
My first visit was on Monday October 28th. Me and my sister Katie had planned it all since we were taking our youngest brother Liam with us. We had packed lunches ready for the wait, told him what routes we were taking and how long it would take (for context, he’s Autistic). At 11 a.m. we left my place and started the hour-long journey into London (I live in Greenwich) taking a bus up to North Greenwich and then tubing it across London.
We arrived at Westfield and the first thing I noticed was the lack of signage. Now I understand that Westfield is not actually aimed at people coming by for various pop-up events and shops, it’s a large shopping mall filled with fancy shops and overpriced coffee hubs. However, something saying “Pokemon Centre this way!” or even for it to be highlighted on the map hubs throughout the centre would have been better and made it easier for people to find, rather than just posting that it’s ‘Near Debenhams’. This was a problem when entering via the tube entrance, if you went in the main entrance where the bus stand is, you would have found the centre so much quicker.
Regardless, we headed forth hoping that the queues hadn’t been closed off for the day (some days, queues were closed by 9am!) and upon spotting the centre, we felt a huge wave of both nostalgia and slight disappointment as we followed the queue all the way to the main entrance of Westfields. To then be told “Sorry, the queue is shut for today.” That broke my brother’s little heart and he broke down in tears.
We explained to security that Liam is Autistic and they informed us of the access queue. He was escorted to the front of the line and taken to the manager of the store for the day. We spoke to her but still couldn’t get even Liam in on his own, as there were people who had been there the night before that were still waiting to get in. After asking exactly what was needed for proof to join the access queue, myself and Katie agreed that one of us would come back with Liam much earlier on another day, with all the paperwork in tow so that we could get him in.
Second Time’s the Charm
Fast forward to three days later, it’s 3am Thursday 31st October. Myself and Liam have just woken up; I’m in the process of sorting him out some breakfast, while he slowly wakes up and gets himself ready for the pre-booked cab. I make his hot chocolate in his thermos, double check he’s packed his snacks and entertainment for the day, and together with my friend Hannah we set off to meet the cab. An hour later, we arrived at Westfield, it’s cold, it’s dark, but thankfully not raining.
As we stumbled around trying to find the queue that started the night before, we headed towards the tube entrance knowing from others that they were letting people wait out in Westfield before the mall officially opened, so that people didn’t get too cold. Upon arriving there, we were directed back around Westfield to the bus stand and joined the queue there. After waiting for about an hour, we were allowed in from the cold and into the warmth; and that’s when the longest wait happened.
The Long Night
I was okay as I had my crochet with me. The only downside was that I didn’t prepare myself anything hot to drink, as I had been focused on making this as easy as possible for Liam to cope and deal with, but I powered through. Somehow he did too, Liam doesn’t handle waiting very well; normally he is up and walking about, fidgeting and asking the typical “are we there yet?” every 10-15 minutes. But with the power of snacks, hot chocolate and the Nintendo Switch, he was too preoccupied to worry about such trivial matters.
As we waited for the shop to open, I made the security team aware that we were going to join the accessibility queue. I showed them photocopies of every single letter my mum had for my brother (this was a bit overkill as I only needed his Disability Living Allowance letter and photo ID for him) and told them I was his designated carer for the day, they told me the queue opened at 7am and we would be free to join then.
So we waited, and I have to thank Hannah and all the people in the queue for having the patience of saints. If you don’t know what it’s like to take a kid on the spectrum out, it can be hard. He doesn’t quite understand that you normally don’t talk to people you don’t know, and if he’s not careful some people in the world would capitalize on that. When we take my brother places, we do it in pairs, which means one of us can go to the toilet or do a snack run while the other waits with him. But the people around us were willing to keep an eye on him and talked to him about his favourite Pokemon and what he wanted to get from the shop, as well as Hannah who sat with him when I went to the toilet.
Dapper Pikachu – Everywhere and Nowhere
At 7am, we joined the access queue and a huge wave of relief washed over me. We could see the centre so Liam knew we were close to getting in, but then the second half of waiting started. After 3 hours of queuing he started to get impatient, he went from 30 minutes of playing the Switch to 30 minutes of YouTube videos, to getting up and walking about. I have to once again give a massive thanks to Hannah and everyone around us, even the security guards who took their time to tell the other kids in the access queue that Pikachu was just having his breakfast and would be out soon.
Ten a.m. rolled around, the shutters opened, and there we saw the Dapper Pikachu… And then we didn’t see him… The biggest disappointment of the day was not being able to get a photo of Liam (dressed up of course as Pikachu) with Dapper Pikachu as he went around the main queue. I bought this up with the lady at the front of the store and was told that he was separately contracted but they would make sure that next time he would go by the accessibility queue. Regardless we got in after 6 hours of waiting and it was pretty much everything Liam and I expected, and more.
The store had lots of unique merchandise -this was obviously the go-to if you wanted to remember the day. The Dapper Pikachu plushies, umbrellas, posters, and even playmats for card gamers; I have to applaud the Pokemon company on the artwork for some of the merchandise. When I told people I was really excited to go to the Pokemon Centre, the majority scoffed and told me it was a childish hobby that I was “too old” to enjoy, but the shop decor managed to make it as friendly to the next generation of Pokemon fans as the current generation (keeping in mind I was 7 when Pokemon Red/Blue released in the UK and I’m 28 now). They really did their best to keep the two generations tied together while making it look ‘grown up’.
Five Items Only
The next big disappointment was the five item limit with one of each exclusive type for each customer, a limit that I think should have been put in place from the very start. Those lucky enough to get in on the first few days were able to buy whatever they wanted in whatever quantity. I feel this was a little bit selfish. Pokemon is Nintendo’s second biggest franchise and many of us in the UK have been waiting for a Pokemon shop for years, so that we can all buy our favourite Pokemon and other unique collectables. When it finally happened, I think people took it a bit overboard. Now, this is going off posts I’ve seen on Facebook and Instagram. I’m not saying everyone who went on those opening days might have spoiled it for the rest of us, but next time I think everyone should have a bit of humility, remember everyone wants to enjoy Pokemon, and make it as easy for others to enjoy it as we can.
Regardless, we still spent 30-40 minutes in the store taking photos with all the murals, the giant £200 Pikachu, and deciding what exactly we wanted from the store. Staff even commented on how cool Liam’s onesie was, which made him feel comfortable in the shop. I thank those staff who helped get stuff off the shelf for him when he couldn’t reach, who listened to his questions and offered to help take photos.
Sword and Shield Exclusives
I managed to convince Liam that we could order a lot of the stock for him, especially the ‘My First Starter’ stuff which included Sword and Shield’s newest range of adorable starters. He had his heart set on buying a Scorbunny early, so that was allowed to stay in his basket. In addition he also picked up a badge, poster and a Dapper Pikachu plushy. I went more grown up with my choices opting for the Pikachu in London blanket, the Eeveeolutions mug, the Pokemon Centre playmat and of course the Dapper Pikachu plushy.
After buying everything, we headed upstairs to test out Sword and Shield. Before this, there was another photo opportunity, which has given me my favourite photo of us together that shows that Pokemon is most definitely for everyone. For the 10 minutes we tested the game, a month before it was released to the general public, and it felt like it was taking the franchise in a good direction.
What are my thoughts a few months later? I had fun, I enjoyed it and I can now say I’ve been to a Pokemon Centre. What could have been done better? I agree with all the people commenting on Facebook asking for a ticketing system; a first come, first served system doesn’t quite work with this type of Pop-Up shop, as this unwittingly excluded people from different parts of the country. For many including myself going to the Pokemon Centre was a day trip out, as it included pre-planning to make the day as enjoyable as possible. For many travelling from outside of London and Greater London however, this would have quite possibly meant a midnight start only to be turned away on arrival, leaving them feeling like they’ve wasted a day.
So The Pokemon Company, if by any chance you’re reading this, please do this one thing for the Championship Store: Have a ticket system, limited to two tickets per purchase and limit purchases in store from the very start to make it as fair for everyone as possible.