By LAINIE ALFARO
At first glance, one wouldn’t guess father/son duo Steve and Chase Lirley dreamed up and now co-own an 8,000-square-foot comic store slash restaurant in their neighborhood of Allied Gardens. However, it is not rocket science that TC’s Rockets is their passion and in their family blood.
“If you met either of us outside of the store, you would never know that we are into anything like this,” but their backstory demonstrates this store has been in the making for quite some time,” Chase said. “My whole life I was almost raised to work at a comic book store. My whole garage was always packed with toys and comics. It was a known thing my dad was going to open it [TC’s Rockets].”
Named after his daughter and son, Tia and Chase’s Rockets offers a blast to the past sprinkled with nostalgia and retro toys and comics.
In 2015, they opened up their first store in La Mesa off of Parkway Drive — the culmination of years of garage sale adventures and comic showcases.
However, with an influx of more merchandise and collectors’ finds too good to pass up, they needed more space. This prompted the search for a new building and, as luck had it, the search ended in their own neighborhood.
“I don’t want to use the word fate, but it really feels like it,” Chase said. “This [Allied Gardens] was my neighborhood. We both grew up here. When we were looking for units because we needed to expand and we saw this one over here. It was kind of like everything was no longer a debate. It worked out great for us.”
Since 2018, they have served their neighborhood and beyond with game nights, robust comic book collections, vintage toys, and more recently, sandwiches and pizza.
“When we moved to this unit, we had more space than we knew what to do with,” Chase said. “We run Magic [a popular card game] gathering events. We usually average about 100 people. We thought it’d be cool to do a little deli.”
As fate had it, the Little Ceasar’s next door closed down in 2020 and they gained a kitchen with the bonus of pizza ovens. However, the timing for opening a restaurant proved to be quite the undertaking given the pandemic.
“My dad and I have no idea how to make pizza,” Chase said. “Luckily, we had friends in the community who were like ‘I have a friend who is an absolute passionate pizza person.’ The restaurant opened in December. It was a crazy idea to even open a restaurant during this time. My dad said perfectly: ‘We’re opening in the worst time possible so it can’t get worse.’ If we can survive through that, we can survive anything.”
For other comic/toy conventions such as Comic-Con ,as well as other local stores, survival relied on online sales or offering curbside pickup, but Chase believes the digital world can’t compete with the in-person experience.
“Magic had released a new game just before COVID-19,” he said. “People realized that games like that lend themselves to being in social settings and seeing someone face to face. There’s a lot of new faces I had never seen before who had been playing at home. Having this happen gave people the sense of ‘this is something I missed this is something I want moving forward.’”
One of the missed events at their business last year was Rocket Con. With Comic-Con evolving into more of a pop culture convention, Steve and Chase came up with Rocket Con for those wanting to buy and sell the retro toys, games, and comics.
“More intriguing things to find, less on the big business stuff,” Chase said.
To make up for lost times, Chase and Steve scheduled their third annual Rocket Con for 2022.
Despite the overall challenges of 2020, Chase said the local community was still valued and felt. For that reason, an in-person gathering in 2022 will have all the more meaning.
“Every single day that we got here we assumed that we would have $0 at the end every day,” he said. “The amount of people that called and bought board games, puzzles, toys, and paint was absolutely insane. I am so happy that our community was able to support us through that entire time because I really did not expect it. It’s just the little things.”
As far as the future for TC’s Rockets, Comic-Con, and the gaming community in San Diego, Chase is hopeful.
“People have their collections brewing and they enjoy what they got,” said Chase. “I do feel optimistic. It can’t get any worse than it was. There’s still something to look forward to.
Every day I get to do something comic or toy-related with my dad.”
TC Rockets is located at 5155 Waring Road. Visit www.tcrockets.com.
— Lainie Alfaro is a journalism student at Point Loma Nazarene University and a former intern for teh Mission Times, College Times and La Mesa Couriers.