Anaheim Funko shop owner ‘bands’ community together with free, themed pop-ups and charity
One week, Nick Mendoza III was at Primetime Emmy Awards events rubbing shoulders with celebrities like Ron Howard. The next, he was outfitting himself with a large costume he made for some meet-and-greets.
Mendoza’s career paths span acting in commercials, reality TV and pilots, and singing as well as serving in the military. More recently, he’s an Anaheim-based Funko pop culture shop owner with a passion for giving back. His latest endeavor is called the Valentine’s Kove, a free photo op, short walk-through and meet-and-greet he’s hosting in front of his shop, named Bands For Arms, with an emphasis on pop-culture items including Pokémon and Hello Kitty. His first event like this was the Grinchmas House, featuring the Grinch for some photo ops and free hot cocoa, that happened over the holidays.
“We wanted to venture and try another holiday-themed event, and we felt Hello Kitty would go really well for Valentine’s Day since it has a large fan base, and a lot of people adore Hello Kitty in general,” Mendoza said.
The Valentine’s Kove opened to the public Jan. 19 and runs through Feb. 18, Fridays through Sundays from 5 to 9 p.m. It’s also open Valentine’s Day. There is free hot cocoa and a game guests can play to get a gift card to use in the shop. There’s Hello Kitty merchandise in the store Mendoza brought in for the event.
Denise Taylor, of Anaheim, learned about Mendoza’s shop and events through her son.
“My son wanted to get into collecting Funko Pops, so we went to check out the shop,” Taylor said. “My son and I entered their costume contest in October and won. I then started to follow Nick and all the activities he does with the shop.”
They visited the Grinchmas House and plan to check out Hello Kitty too.
“We got a chance to spin the wheel for a chance to win a prize,” she said. “My son is a teen but was still willing to take a picture with the Grinch. I do plan to go to the event. I can’t wait to see what Nick creates this time. I know there are a lot of families that struggle to make ends meet so free events like this are great [for] families on a budget.”
The Grinchmas House began on Black Friday and ran until Dec. 30 last year. It ended up having more than 6,000 guests. Mendoza thinks the Valentine’s Kove could bring in more.
Mendoza donates 50% of net sales of his Funko/pop culture novelty shop during events to various charities, including CHOC and organizations that support the military. He plans a combined donation from the Valentine’s Kove and the upcoming Pokémon Egg Hunt Adventures Easter pop-up for CHOC or the Los Angeles Mission.
Giving back is why he started Bands For Arms on Jan. 8, 2010. Bands For Arms are bracelets designed for each military branch with 50% of the sale price going to charities that support the military, as well as those supporting disaster relief programs, autism and cancer research.
“I began Bands For Arms in 2010 for a friend who was killed in action in 2009,” said Mendoza, who served in the U.S. Navy in Naval Intelligence in Explosive Ordnance Disposal from 2006 to 2016. “The friend, a Marine who was bullied in his platoon aboard my first duty station in 2007 in Yokosuka, Japan. … I took him under my wing and I became his mentor. We would always hang out on the ship during deployments and off the ship wherever we ported.”
He said that over time they became friends with the other Marines.
“At the end of the Marines’ time aboard my command ship, my friend, the bullied Marine, befriended 17 Marines that used to once bully him,” Mendoza said. “He asked for a piece of their uniform to create a bracelet. Before they left, he presented me with the bracelet he made, describing it as such: The body of the bracelet, made with 17 pieces of uniforms, symbolizes the 17 Marines that were once bullies to him.”
One end had a hoop, representing Mendoza, and the other end had a button, representing the Marine himself.
“When latched together, it represented the friendship that was formed and developed because of me,” Mendoza said. “He made a promise with me to continue helping others that come into my life and always look at the bracelet he made me, to remind me of what I have done for him.”
Mendoza said his friend grew as a leader in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 when he was killed.
“When I found this out, I was devastated and wanted to do something for his family,” Mendoza said. “In January 2010, I launched Bands For Arms, taking his idea of the military uniform bracelet and returning back the sales of each bracelet sold toward charities that support the military.”
Though he launched Bands For Arms in 2010, Mendoza has owned the physical store at 754 N. Lemon Street — which is also part home — since September 2016. During the Halloween season he hosts a free haunted walk-through for the community on Halloween night and Haunted Basement Tours for paranormal investigation at $15 per person.
In addition to the Pokémon Egg Hunt Adventures event for the Easter season, Mendoza is planning A Winter Nightmare Before Christmas for the holidays. The Halloween walk-through this year will be called Circus of Screams Haunted House.
Michelle Tung, of La Habra and who works for the city of Anaheim, said she found Bands For Arms on Instagram. She plans on attending the Valentine’s Kove.
“I think events like these are important because it brings together people with common interests and gives them time to bond,” Tung said. “I’m a Hello Kitty fan, and Nick’s story about bullying hit a chord with me.”
3:48 p.m. Jan. 25, 2024: This story has been updated to reflect a change of name to the event.
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