“They sure grow up fast” is an oft-spoken lament among parents throughout the world and for Tacoma’s Eric Vasquez, his rapid growth from elementary student to high school graduate is no exception. It seems like just yesterday that he was making the local news as the 10-year-old who loved LEGO so much that he opened his Connect the Brick shop in Proctor District. In reality, that was seven years ago and now Vasquez is all grown up with college as his next big step in life.
This June, Vasquez will be leaving high school as he graduates from Tacoma Public Schools’ Science and Math Institute (SAMI). He’s exploring which college he’d like to attend but it has to be close to home so that he can maintain his business that he has poured so much of himself into ever since he was in the 5th grade. His parents, Luisa and Tony Vasquez, have been his biggest supporters all along the way, right by his side putting their heart and soul into supporting their son’s dream as well.
“I couldn’t bear to think what would happen if we had to close it – the friendships and relationships I’ve built over the seven years,” Eric said at the thought of closing his store. “We know so many members of the community and it would be so sad to lose that.”
So, he is exploring his options right now on which local university he could attend to pursue his intended major in business and marketing. He likes the thought of enrolling in the University of Puget Sound but affording it is an issue, as UPS is on the higher end of the tuition spectrum when compared to other institutions of higher learning like the University of Washington-Tacoma. Applying for scholarships at multiple colleges is definitely on his to-do list.
It would be a big benefit to the city for Eric to stay in Tacoma rather than for him to take his talents and business acumen elsewhere. Ever since his days at Washington Elementary School, he has juggled the responsibilities of keeping his grades up, running his own business, spending time with his family, and enjoying just being a kid.
Connect the Brick offers a big selection in-store and online.
“It has sometimes been challenging but I always put school first,” he said. “If there are things that I have to do for the shop that are optional, I’ll put those off until I’ve done my homework or completed projects for school. It’s been a little bit tricky to juggle everything, but I always make time for friends and family and things like that. I think I found a pretty good balance.”
The story of how Eric came to open his own business at such a young age combines his inspired vision with good people who recognized his capabilities. He remembers how his imagination took hold while he was at a LEGO convention in Seattle.
“I was like seven or so and there were people from all over the world at the Seattle Center. I always thought it would be so cool to open a permanent store of my own where we could sell, trade, buy and all sorts of things,” Eric recalled.
It wasn’t a flight of fancy either because he got to work setting up a little table at a sidewalk sale in front of the former Blooming Kids store next to the Proctor post office. Then something significant happened when he and his mom one day spotted a space for rent next to the Pacific Northwest Shop just one block over. The building owner, former Tacoma City Council member Bill Evans, saw how committed Eric was from watching him conduct his LEGO business from the sidewalk and decided to lease the 89 square foot retail space to Eric at a very affordable price.
“He’s a really nice young fellow,” said Evans, who was happy to write a college recommendation letter for Eric all these years later after giving him his first big break in business.
Connect the Brick is still at this original location, 3901 N. 27th St., along with its robust online store. Learn more at connectthebrick.com.