From the outside, Gotcha Gachapon seems just like another store lining High Street in the Short North. But once inside, surrounded by big-eyed plush toys, flashing arcade games and rows upon rows of manga books, guests are transported to a Japanese boutique seemingly plucked straight from the streets of Tokyo.
Founded by two friends who met at an anime convention in 2008, Gotcha Gachapon is a pop-up shop devoted to Japanese animation, arcade games and comics that opened earlier this month. It is currently housed on the first floor of Maotef Comic and Gifts in the Short North.
Shane Mack, co-founder of Gotcha Gachapon said he hopes to eventually move the business into its own separate retail location, but said the plan is to stick with Maotef for the “forseeable future.”
Gotcha Gachapon, which opened about a month ago, is filling a hole in the Columbus market, Mack said.
“We knew that there was a niche market that was not being fulfilled with other businesses … It is very difficult to find anime-related products,” he said. “For fans, they usually rely solely on anime conventions. They will save up their money all year for the convention and then go crazy and buy a whole bunch at once because it is almost impossible to find the products (in) retail (stores).“
Although Gotcha Gachapon offers the convenience of finding anime products in one retail location, it is the convention environment that Mack and co-founder Anthony Locke said they hope customers experience when visiting the store.
“We have been importing Japanese arcade games and really trying to make it like a miniature convention,” Locke said.
The store also offers some experiences that are typically under-represented at anime conventions, including the machines after which the store takes its name, Locke added.
“We decided one night that the only thing we had never seen at a convention was gachapon machines,” he said. “They are so popular in Japan.”
Gachapon machines resemble American quarter machines that dispense small trinkets or toys in round plastic capsules. Customers insert a specific amount of coins into slots on the exterior of the machine and then turn a knob to retrieve the prize.
“They tend to feature anime products and high-quality, buildable (collectible) figures,” Locke said.
“Gachapon” is an onomatopoeia for the sound the machine makes when it dispenses the capsules, Mack said.
“When you turn (the knob), it kind of sounds like ‘gacha gacha,’ and then ‘pon’ is the sound of the little capsule being dispensed,” he said.
The word has been generalized to describe collectible trading toys, often called “blind boxes” in America, that are packaged so that customers do not know what exact figurine out of a set they have purchased until they open the box or gachapon capsule.
“(Blind purchases like gachapon) are pretty much what we specialize in,” Mack said. “You don’t know what you are going to get.”
The store’s gachapon machines line a wall in a room toward the back of the first-floor shop that also contains a growing collection of Japanese arcade games.
“We are really excited to expand the gaming aspect (of our store),” Locke said. “There are no arcades around here … that have games like the ones we have.”
Currently, Gotcha Gachapon owns two Japanese arcade games — a first-person shooting game that uses motion sensors to mirror players’ actions called “Police 911” and “Percussion Master,” which is a rhythmic music game.
Other games, such as “Dance Dance Revolution” and “Jubeat,” a DJ simulation game, are expected to arrive at the store in the coming weeks, Locke said.
Mack and Locke said most of the products sold at Gotcha Gachapon come directly from Japan, and buying in bulk allows them to offer the imported goods at prices that are more affordable than convention prices.
“If you wanted to stock up, it is very affordable to buy a whole bunch of stuff (here) compared to at an anime convention,” Mack said.
Most products in the store are below $20, Locke added. Capsules from the store’s gachapon machines are priced at about $1 each.
Jason Huang, a second-year in molecular genetics who said he enjoys watching anime in his spare time, said that while he has not visited Gotcha Gachapon yet, he is interested to see if the store has a Blu-ray selection of anime.
“I will probably check it out eventually … they will probably get some sales based on Blu-ray and the figurines that they have,” he said.
Locke said Gotcha Gachapon plans to continue to add to its inventory throughout the year, and photos of new shipments will be posted to the store’s Facebook page.
“You can just about expect (new products) nearly every day,” he said. “We are constantly going to be changing.”
Gotcha Gachapon is set to participate in the Short North Gallery Hop on Saturday. A reception featuring extended store hours and complimentary drinks is scheduled to be held at the store from noon to midnight.
Gotcha Gachapon is located on the first floor of Maotef Comic and Gifts at 997 N. High St.