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Unlock the Con Brings Fan-Forward Comic Cons to an Auburn Outlet Mall

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

Edited by Bridget McKenna and Mark Van Streefkerk

In collaboration with South Seattle Emerald

Carla Perez (in the middle of the back row) poses with the Unlock The Con staff after a signing event she did for the grand opening of the store's new location, including Ashley Weaver on the left, and Barry Weaver to the right. Picture taken in 2023. (Photo/Courtesy of Barry Weaver.)

Unlock The Con, a collectibles store in the heart of the Outlet Collection Seattle mall in Auburn, is a treasure trove for local collectors to find new, discontinued, and even autographed collectibles. Entering the store, customers meet with dozens of statues and hundreds of figures based on characters from movies and television. Most notably, the store focuses on selling “Pop!” figures by Everett-based toy maker Funko, whose line-up of figures depicts licensed characters and icons.

From Star Wars figures to Marvel superheros, and even presidents, any customer is bound to find something they like. However, many fans of Unlock The Con know the shop for the comic con-style events they host in-store every few months. As a result of growing popularity, the store has upgraded to a larger location in the mall — doubling in size with the intention of keeping the comic con experience going year-round.

Inside of Unlock The Con. Funko Pop! figures and similar collectibles fill the shelves. Pictured in 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez)

The idea that eventually grew to become Unlock The Con was spawned in 2018 before the store opening in 2019. The owners, Barry and Ashley Weaver, had begun to share interests in comic book and anime conventions where they could interact with the actors who portray their favorite characters. Ashley Weaver reflects on the fan experience at these conventions.

“As we got together, we started going to conventions and we enjoyed them so much. But we also saw a lot of things that we didn't enjoy about them,” Weaver said. “As collectors and fans of the celebrities we also saw, you know, their experience could be a little bit better as well.”

Fans of Unlock The Con wait outside of the store for the grand opening of the new location. Picture taken in 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez)

Typically, fans at comic conventions pay moderate to large sums of money to get an autograph or photo with an actor, with the payoff resulting in a quick and underwhelming interaction. It was this type of experience that the Weavers wanted to change with their own events, leading to the creation of Unlock The Con — the name alluding to fans “unlocking” the comic con experience in their local mall. At Unlock The Con, both celebrity guests and fans are encouraged to take the time to converse and get to know each other, with no time limit per interaction.

“We have [had] our friends and fans tell us how much it means to them to be able to come in and not be ushered too quickly like you get treated by staffing at comic cons a lot. ‘All right, you got your autograph, move on now,’” Barry said. “[Fans are] encouraged to come up and get a hug or a handshake or to express what it meant to them to meet that guest, and the guest doesn't feel rushed.”

Funko Pop! figures of the characters Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Pennywise from IT, signed by Tim Curry who portrayed both characters. These autographed collectibles are safely secured in a glass case, along with a row of other autographed figures. Picture taken in 2023. (Photo/ Antonio Nevarez)

After years of holding occasional fan events in their store, the Weavers have upgraded to a larger space in the mall where they can house their own versions of common comic con amenities, including an artists alley, merch booth, and claw machine, all while working with local businesses. One eye-grabbing addition to the store is a fully functional food truck called “Joysticks” where convention attendees can purchase kabobs. Arthur Rodenhauser officially opened the truck for business at the grand opening of the store’s new location.

The Joysticks food truck, primarily run by Arthur Rodenhauser, sits inside the Unlock The Con store. This food truck specializes in a video game aesthetic, with their slogan "bytes on a stick" referring to the kebabs they sell. Picture taken in 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez)

“I've always wanted to own a food truck or even a restaurant in general for honestly the last 10 years,” Rodenhauser said. “[We sell] a lot of quick, easy bites of snacks to take with you to go walk around the mall, walk around the shop, and be able to experience Unlock The Con while having a snack. So you don't have to leave the store.”

Longtime and new fans of Unlock The Con had the opportunity to experience the store’s new location throughout the weekend of Jul. 28-30. During this weekend, fans got to explore the new store while having the opportunity to meet actors from different shows.

Of these actors was Carla Perez, who portrayed the character Rita Repulsa in the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers show. When Perez appeared at the grand opening of the show, a line formed for fans to get Power Rangers merch signed.

Mark Chevalier [right] and Amy Morgan [left] with their son Noah wearing Power Rangers-themed clothing in celebration of Carla Perez's appearance at the grand opening. Picture taken in 2023. (Photo/Antonio Nevarez)

Mark Chevalier and Amy Morgan are a married couple who attended the grand opening with their son Noah, specifically to meet Carla Perez. Being such big fans of the original Power Rangers show, they drove all the way from Northern Idaho to Auburn for the event. While the family have gone to larger fan conventions in the past, Morgan reflects on the experience of attending a small fan convention in a mall.

“It's something that I've never really experienced before. And it's so cool to see like pop culture immersed in a place like this and bringing all the community together and people from all over to meet these idols and icons that we grew up with,” Morgan said. “I think it's incredible. And it's an amazing experience for my son and for our family. It's like a memory that we'll always have.”

As a celebrity guest, Perez shares what it’s like to be on the receiving end of praise from fans at Unlock The Con, where she is able to spend as much time as she would like talking to fans.

“There's no rush, everyone's relaxed, even the people patronizing. They don't mind waiting and giving everyone their time because you could just come back, not like in a convention where you only have so much time,” Perez said. “I've actually done a few conventions that are located in a mall, like they have the whole mall open. But this is a little different, because it's actually a big huge comic store in a mall that's open all the time.”


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