Most ’90s kids remember when Pokémon took the playground by storm — monkey-bars became mundane compared to the thrill of trading cards in tight-knit circles, solely in hopes of securing something special for their stack. And PokéNerds, a St. Peters-based business, has not only created a community for present-day Pokémon collectors, but also is supporting Ukraine amid its current crisis.
“I grew up with Pokémon as a kid,” says Brian Trull, owner of PokéNerds. “Growing up, my dad had a comic book store/all-around nerdy place, you could say, and we had the original Pokémon stuff in our store in California. It was just a bigger part of my childhood than I would say for most people.”
Trull went on to study business with an emphasis in marketing at both the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus and the University of Missouri–St. Louis before going on to work for Disney.
“Then I started doing different digital marketing type things for other companies and I was just looking at Pokémon since it was such a big part of my childhood,” says Trull. “So it started off as an e-commerce business and then it kept growing and doing really well, so we opened a retail store.”
“A lot of people come in our store and describe it like the Disney store but for Pokémon fans,” says Trull. “That was kind of our idea behind it, as well, because a lot of people love Pokémon, but there was never really a nice place for Pokémon fans to go. You could go to GameStop and they might have a little bit of Pokémon. Maybe Target will have a couple things. But Pokémon is such a large all-encompassing phenomenon.”
Especially since Pokémon, which came to the U.S. from Japan in 1998, is not solely a show.
“It was wildly successful with 90s babies,” says Trull. “Pokémon’s mascot is Pikachu, and he’s kind of like the modern Mickey Mouse except this mouse has cool electric abilities. Essentially Pokémon are fun little animals or creatures with some sort of special power that befriend kids who train them to become even stronger! Not only were there cartoons, but there were movies, video games, toys, cards, you could even find Pokémon in McDonald’s Happy Meals.”
Which was essentially the goal of PokéNerds — to bring all facets of the phenomenon to one spot.
“What we wanted to do is just bring all those different things together underneath one roof and create the ultimate destination for the Pokémon fan,” says Trull. “At PokéNerds you can find video games, you can find imports from around the world, we have different plushies, we have Pokémon cards, we have accessories, we have different toys. We have backpacks and clothing for kids, and we even started carrying high-end purses. There’s really anything you can imagine.”
However, PokéNerds does more than sell Pokémon products. They also have weekly trade nights.
“Every Friday night at 6 p.m. we have a kids’ trade night, and it’s literally packed shoulder to shoulder every Friday,” says Trull. “It’s for kids and their parents, and they absolutely love it.”
Trull says attendees receive a free pack of Pokémon cards and usually bring their own collection, as well, to trade.
“It is a good way to make new friends because they all share the same hobby,” says Trull. “It’s easier to make a friend when you already have something in common. PokéNerds is just a really positive place.”
PokéNerds is also making a positive impact abroad.
“I lived my whole life in Ukraine and only moved to the USA a couple years ago,” says Valeria Trull, who owns and operates PokéNerds alongside her husband, Brian. “My whole family’s in Ukraine, so when the war started, we decided that we needed to do something to help people in Ukraine.”
Valeria says they closed up shop for approximately three weeks and went to Poland, a bordering country to Ukraine, where refugees were fleeing from the war.
“We went there to help refugees — just women and kids, of course, because men are not allowed to leave,” says Valeria. “So we were buying food and essentials for women and kids, and just passing them out to refugees, as well as looking for different NGOs that are helping so that we can understand where we could donate our money or that when we came back we could recommend to other Americans.”
Valeria says as soon as they returned from their trip they began a fundraising campaign in their store.
“I have a little tip jar on the counter and people are donating all the time and the money that I raise here in the store I donate to different foundations in Ukraine and to different volunteers,” says Valeria. “They’re buying supplies for soldiers in Ukraine or buying materials for people who are suffering from the war.”
And Valeria says the support has been heartwarming.
“I’m very grateful to everyone,” says Valeria. “Sometimes kids come and they take money from their little allowance envelopes and donate to my little jar. They will say, ‘To help Ukraine win.’ It sometimes actually makes me cry.”
Thus far, they have raised approximately $10,000.
“It’s a drop in the ocean, but every drop means something,” says Valeria. “It means a lot to me because it’s very hard to be here, to be safe and my country is struggling and people are dying for no reason. This is such a cruel, unjust war and every day it actually gets worse.”
Funds raised have gone to Ukraine-based organizations like Come Back Alive and Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation, U.S.-based organizations like Ukrainian American Coordinating Council and Help Heroes of Ukraine, and to purchase military, medical and humanitarian supplies for the people of Ukraine.
“Support of the people of St. Louis means to us that we are not standing alone in this fight,” says Valeria. “Fight for the freedom and the right to be an independent democratic country. It is empowering to us to do even more. It gives us resources to help save lives. Every dollar counts. Every dollar becomes a bulletproof vest or helmet, thermal vision device or life saving medicine.”
In addition to Valeria’s jar, PokéNerds is also selling a Ukrainian Support pin, from which 100 percent of proceeds go toward helping Ukraine.
“It definitely means a lot to me that people are supporting us and we are able to support Ukraine,” says Valeria. “It’s nice that the entire world supports us and the St. Louis community supports Ukrainians. I can see that. I can even see the Ukrainian flags where we live in St. Charles. It warms my heart.”
Join the Story
Check out all that PokéNerds has to offer on their website.