Xpanded Universe Brings Designer Japanese Toys to Downtown

April 21, 2015

Photo courtesy Xpanded Universe

Godzilla and Ultraman will guide you to the Xpanded Universe location on Toole.

by Simon Brimmer

Godzilla and Ultraman never did battle on the screen. Well, unless you count that one Ultraman episode where the silver and red clad alien superhero battled a monster that looked a lot like Godzilla with a neck collar. As a result, don’t be too alarmed when you head to 197 E. Toole and notice two of Japan’s most noteworthy imports facing off on a mural on the side of the building.

It’s not a redux of a 50-year-old grudge. Destruction does not loom. But nerd glory does.

Inside, one will enter the world of Xpanded Universe, a shop dedicated to designer toys from Japan in addition to paintings and other quirky concepts from local artists.

If this sounds to the seasoned Tucson toy collector a bit like Lulubell, the toy shop that bolted from the Old Pueblo to set up its expanding business in Phoenix, there’s reason for the comparison.

“It’s that kind of overall designer toy, Japanese vinyl type stuff,” said owner Mike Olivares, who helped the crew at Lulubell transition into one of their store spaces during the company’s early days.

“Our first customer was a Lulubell customer who said they saw Lulubell tweet about our store, and they were really happy with what they could get and that they didn’t have to try to find it online and they could get it in Tucson. When Lulubell left, there was nothing like that in Tucson. We want to be a physical store where people can come in and interact. We’d like to have physical space to go in, interact, talk about our vices and buy toys.”

Photo courtesy Xpanded Universe

Xpanded Universe offers a unique inventory of hard to find, rare Japanese collectibles and quirky local art.

The interactive component is an important addition to the Xpanded Universe concept.

“Throughout the months we’ll be doing art shows and we want to create summer camps and events where children and young adults can come in and learn how to make their own toys from phase one through resin casting and other materials,” Olivares said.

“We’ll be rolling that schedule out in a few months. One of my good friends has opened a store, Retrograde, right next to us, and while they’re different, we want to work together to create another space people can come down to and interact in a retail space and see something fun they can join in on down the road.”

Olivares also has plans to invite national and international artists to the venue in addition to using the space as a consistent outlet to view some of the works of Tucson’s quirkier creative talents.

“There is an amazing wealth of artists in Tucson,” Olivares said. “I love traditional. I love all art forms, but we definitely want to promote the oddball type stuff and display that through maybe monthly shows.”

Xpanded Universe opened up shop April 11, but is still getting acclimated to the space.

“We just had the floor redone. It’s a nice kaiju green,” Olivares said.

A grand opening featuring live art, music, free giveaways, costuming groups and food trucks is slated for Monday, May 4 from 6-10 pm.

Don't you want to take this cuddly li'l guy home?

Don’t you want to take this cuddly li’l guy home?

Store hours are Mondays through Saturdays from noon-to-7 pm. Check out xpandeduniverse.com to access its web presence.

“I’ve always been a fan of Downtown Tucson and the art community, and having a shop Downtown gives not only myself but local artists another venue to showcase their work in Tucson,” said Olivares, who is also the founder and director of the Tucson Comic Con and TAPE!, art centric conventions: one focusing on comic books and pop culture, while the other focuses on local creators and a broader range of art mediums within the community.

But when it comes to his first brick and mortar venture, a one-stop designer Japanese toy/quirky art/comic/pop-culture/and sprinkling of music store, downtown is the place to xpand one’s universe.

And sure, you could GPS the 191 E. Toole, Unit 3 location, but why not just let the Godzilla and Ultraman mural guide you to your destination.