"We've been planning a LONG time for this," exclaimed Erez Morag. The 31-year old San Franciscan was one of the first in line to check out the new Lego Store at the Westfield Shopping Center, and he's an active member in BayLUG (Bay Area Lego Users Group). Morag could barely contain his genuine excitement as he and his fellow BayLUG members guided me through the store. He looked around and beamed, "I am so thrilled about this."
Lego opened their 1,660-square foot store today in the space formerly occupied by the forgettable San Francisco Sports Store, just across from the Sunglass Hut. While the Bay Area is home to three other Lego stores already (Pleasanton, San Mateo, and Santa Clara), this first San Francisco outpost is a big deal, especially to AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego.)
Part of this new store's draw for these Lego superfans are this weekend's special events and giveaways. Shoppers who spend $50 on Friday get a free Lego backpack, but the AFOLs are planning on making their big purchases on Saturday, where a $99 purchase nets an exclusive Lego Store Set. $50 purchases on Sunday come with a special mini-figure set.
The store features interactive components, like a video screen which allows shoppers to scan a Lego box and then watch themselves holding an animated version of the set as it comes to life. There's also a floor-to-ceiling "Pick-A-Brick" wall where builders can select the exact Lego piece they need, and a kiosk of various Lego figure body parts, where custom characters can be created. (Please see my cat lady in the photo gallery. I'm very proud of her.)
Master Builder Chris Steininger is also in attendance all weekend, helping the public build a large scale Ninjago Lego figure on the second floor in front of J. Crew. Anyone is welcome to pitch in and assemble parts of the figure at tables adorned with choking hazard signs.
Steininger is one of only eight official Master Builders, having worked his way up from "Model Gluer Trainee" to follow in his father's footsteps. The Steiningers are the only father-son Lego Master family and are rightly regarded as celebrities in the Lego community. Once he left the store opening, Steininger headed up to the large-scale build on the second floor where excited kids and even more excited adults waited to pose for pictures with him.
"I've been here since 25 to 5!" announced Dave Townsend (meaning 4:35 a.m.). Townsend made the pre-dawn trip from his home in Crockett after doing a reconnaissance mission yesterday. "I'm a Lego freak!"
"I never figured myself as a sculptor," confessed kind-eyed artist and AFOL Robert Campbell, "until Lego came along." A member of BayLUG, Campbell was the first of his friends to read that the Lego Store would finally be coming to San Francisco. He laughed, "My wallet went, 'uh oh.'"
Once the thrill of opening weekend is over, the Lego store insists the fun will continue with regularly scheduled builds and special events. "We generally have a good relationship with the people at the Lego Stores," explained Morag of AFOLs. "There's a mutual respect."
Morag's Lego-based joie-de-vivre is endearing and contagious. As we chatted, various BayLUG members and AFOLs came up to show me iPhone pictures of their Lego masterpieces, drag me over to check out their dream set, or explain what they love most about Lego. They all seem to possess the most important quality in any quirky group of passionate people: a healthy sense of humor. Perhaps my favorite of the many Lego t-shirts in attendance was the gentleman sporting the cast of "FRIENDS" in Lego figures.
"It's such a boost to your confidence and pride," said Morag of his passion for Legos. "Plus, it's just so much fun."