This weekend, thousands of UK fans were finally able to buy official Pokémon Center merchandise for the first time since the release of Pokémon Red & Blue in the country 20 years ago. So long as they were prepared to wait for up to 10 hours in a queue, that is. But then, queuing is what we Brits do best.
Opening on Friday, 18th October, and scheduled to run through to the launch of Pokémon Sword & Shield on the 15th November, the UK’s first Pokémon pop-up store hadn’t even opened its doors before the queue to get in was already stretching out onto the streets of London. Snaking out from deep within the second floor of the massive Westfield Shepherd’s Bush shopping centre.
Those at the very front of the line had been waiting since 4 am, but their 6-hour wait for the 10 am opening wasn’t even the longest of the day. By the time the shopping centre stopped allowing people to join the queue at 1 pm, the wait for those towards the back was already estimated to be over 10 hours.
This intense reception hasn’t decreased at all since Friday. Every day since the queue has had to be closed only hours after the store itself opens. Last night, The Pokémon Company was forced to launch a new Twitter account to keep potential visitors up-to-date with the status of the store’s queues, while also reducing the opening hours going forward. Originally planned to be open 12 hours every day (except Sunday) from 10 am to 10 pm, the store will now close at 6 pm every day.
The Pokémon Company has called the response “unprecedented” and has struggled to keep up with the demand. By day two, purchase restrictions were put in place, limiting a total of 6 items per person. Still, despite this and efforts to restock daily, many fans are already reporting empty shelves by the time they get into the store.
The reception the store has gotten might have caught The Pokémon Company by surprise, but it really shouldn’t have.
While the visitor numbers have been significantly higher than those for a similar, but smaller, pop-up in Paris for the release of the France-inspired Pokémon X & Y, the London store also features a lot more exclusive merchandise than the rather basic Paris store did. The response also highlights a general unfulfilled demand for more official Pokémon products and support within the UK – and Europe as a whole.
The North American and Japanese Pokémon Centers are not only permanent physical fixtures (albeit with the New York store now flying under a more general ‘Nintendo World’ banner), but they also sell their exclusive products online for those unable to attend in person. No such online store has ever been available for those of us within the UK or Europe, leaving those fans with the choice of relying on expensive resellers and import taxes or going without.
It’s hard not to imagine that, had even the non-London-exclusive Pokémon Center merchandise already been available to buy online in this country, that the uncomfortably long queues could have been reduced considerably. With no sign of the demand letting up, it really does seem like it’s beyond time The Pokémon Company started to cater to it more.
A trip inside the London Pokémon Center
We were lucky enough to be invited by The Pokémon Company to visit the store before its opening on Friday. While, unfortunately, some of these items might not be available if you manage to visit the store yourself over the next few weeks, we can show you a bit of what the store is like inside and what exclusive merchandise was made available for launch. Hopefully, a lot of it will be made available again when the Pokémon World Championships descend on London next August.
We’ll also have some preview impressions of the Pokémon Sword & Shield demo that’s available in-store coming up soon during the week!
The store itself is comprised of two floors. The top floor is dedicated to demos of the upcoming Pokémon Sword & Shield, as well as massive screens to pre-order the games on.
On the ground floor there are two sections, the front section – where the checkout is located – features the bulk of the store’s merchandise. The majority of which are plushies of various different Pokémon. The variety available seems to be completely different depending on what stock has been delivered that day, but it’s primarily themed around Pikachu, Eevee and Generation 1 Kanto Pokémon. Gigantic Wailord and Mimikyu plushies were among the rare non-Kanto related Pokémon we saw represented throughout the store.
The second section, beyond the tunnel, features a wall for taking your photo with as well as a small selection of products featuring the starter Pokémon from Sword & Shield.
A lot of the rest of the stuff on display is exclusive products available nowhere else. The Victorian era British-style Pikachu features across mugs, plushies, journals, tote bags, TCG playmats and card sleeves, t-shirts, hoodies and even umbrellas. Of course.
Detective Pikachu, which was primarily filmed in and around London, gets a wall to itself, next to all the Nintendo Switch products and accessories you’ll need to play the upcoming sequel to the original 3DS game. And Sword & Shield, of course.
There’s not much in the way of products based off of the upcoming new Pokémon games – no Wooloo plushes, unfortunately – but there are premium hoodies, plushies, keychains, stickers and mugs based on the starter Pokémon Grooky, Scorbunny and Sobble.
Unlike the Paris pop-up, there’s no special art exhibition, and most of the products available are just the plushies and apparel seen above. As it’s Britain, of course, there’s plenty of umbrellas for the rain and mugs for tea, but one thing you’re unlikely to see is this giant £240 Pikachu seen here modelling the exclusive umbrella. That was bought while we visited the night before opening and, although they’ve promised another for anyone with similarly expensive tastes, it’ll be a while before they can restock it.