Before that question can be speculated on, we have to acknowledge that there is some stiff competition from other Western US cities: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. All have their own claim to the crown and rightfully so. But I’d like to make a case for The Valley of the Sun because if you haven’t noticed, we are pretty lucky in Phoenix with the amount of pop culture events and businesses that are available to us.
I started thinking about this yesterday when AZCentral had a story about Mario Kart inspired apartments being planned for Downtown Phoenix. If you think about, a whole apartment community planned around the themes of a video game is pretty wild. I don’t know if its actually still happening but we did get an announcement back in 2020 about an Atari Hotel planned for Phoenix. Whether or not that actually comes to fruition, the fact that Phoenix was one of the first locations picked along side Las Vegas is a good indication of what Phoenix can become in terms of a pop culture destination.
How about Funko with its army of loyal followers moving its distribution center to Phoenix (when I say Phoenix, I mean Greater Phoenix that includes all of the surrounding cities). Distribution center doesn’t mean much but you gotta believe at some point Funko might open a store or two here right? Also found in Phoenix is McFarlane Toys, founded by comic book legend Todd McFarlane. While they no longer have a retail presence in the city, Todd does make appearances at local conventions and events. I was even lucky enough to tour the office days before the pandemic.
A big part of the pop culture boom in Phoenix can be traced back to the convention scene. Drama and opinions aside, Phoenix Fan Fusion is the biggest convention in Arizona and probably in the top 10 of big cons this side of the Mississippi. Outside of Fan Fusion, Phoenix has a thriving convention scene with multiple cons dedicated to anime + cosplay, comics, video games, fur community, horror, and even random themes such as Elvis. I can certainly acknowledge Phoenix doesn’t have the same amount of pop culture cons as other cities, but the city has grown its own community of pop culture lovers and I could see the city return to the number of events from like 2016 – 2018 when we had a bunch of conventions.
We even have smaller pop up “conventions” or as some refer to them “parking lot cons” where the event hosts vendors, cosplayers (which Phoenix has a large cosplay community), and themed cars for people to shop and enjoy for free. I actually haven’t attended any of them but I know several who really enjoy them and its an easy, no cost of entry, for people who want to dip their toes into attending events.
Comic books are a being driver of pop culture and Phoenix honestly has no shortage of comic book stores as well as pop culture centric stores such as Collector’s Marketplace and the various Toy Temples (who regularly host signings of popular voice actors). Almost each part of Greater Phoenix has several comic shops to choose from (and hope you support these institutions of pop culture when you can!) that offer more than just comic books at most shops. One of my favorite is Greg’s Comics in Mesa which is just a total old school type of comic store which I would recommend (great prices too!). On the topic of retail, we even have stores such as Zia Records supporting the pop culture scene in Phoenix.
I could keep going (such as arcade bars, video game tournaments, etc) but you get the point. Is Phoenix the pop culture capital of the west? Probably not, that probably goes to Los Angeles but I like to think we are pretty fortunate of what we do have here in Phoenix. We things going the way they are, maybe we can over take Los Angeles some day. However, it could be worse, we could be living somewhere like Omaha or something.