Republic of Lucha gives wrestling focus to gift shop
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Javier Robles admits his store, Republic of Lucha, is a little bit kitsch and somewhat eccentric — but it’s the perfect gift shop for wrestling fans and nonfans alike.
Co-owned by Robles, his wife Ari de Alba, and All Elite Wrestling stars the Lucha Brothers, Republic of Lucha opened in March.
“We decided to do something centered around lucha libre — not so much the sport but the culture of it,” Robles says.
“It’s something really unique and colorful and vibrant and alive. We know how much people all over the world are fascinated by it, although they might not be fans of the sport, per se.”
The idea was born in October, but the entrepreneurs wanted to wait to open Republic of Lucha or a taco truck until 2022, when it would presumably be safe post-pandemic. However, a “gorgeous” 3,800-square-foot, two-and-a-half-story brick building from 1908 was available in the heart of South Pasadena.
They couldn’t resist.
“We had 400 people on opening day,” Robles says.
“We had people traveling from Chicago, New York, Florida, Arizona, all over. It’s like that every weekend. It’s accidentally become a tourist spot because of the guys. This is the flagship store for the Lucha Brothers. They’re really good people and the best wrestlers in the world right now.”
Robles says the point of the store goes beyond fans. It’s a space for everybody with art installations, merchandise, movies and masks.
“We’ve had a lot of repeat customers already who come in, hang out, and stare at the art and masks,” he says.
On the weekends, Republic of Lucha hosts outdoor movie nights for about 50 people. On a recent night, the screening of a 1963 black-and-white Mexican movie about a wrestler who fights Martians sold out.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he adds. “It’s the third consecutive sold-out show. They’re all lucha libre movies. They’ve quickly become a huge hit. Most of the crowd that comes for the movies, they’re not there to watch Hulk Hogan or stuff like that. They love the strangeness of Lucha Libre. They’re goofy and strange.”
That said, Robles feels Republic of Lucha fits snugly in the quirky neighborhood. It’s near “the world’s last remaining video stores on the planet, the Michael Myers house and SugarMynt Gallery. This whole area has Indian food, a Mexican bakery and Chinese fried chicken. South Pasadena doesn’t look as colorful as it truly is at first glance. Once you look at it, it’s amazing.”
Robles was introduced to Mexican grapplers through a burlesque wrestling show for which he formerly worked. He admitted he’s a fan, but he’s “pretty good at business, too.” He helps the athletes with licensing, green cards, work permits and books.
“I’ve been the unofficial point person for lucha libre for the last decade or so,” Robles added.
As for the Lucha Brothers — otherwise known as Lucha Brothers Penta Zero M and Rey Fenix — they “exploded,” Robles says, in the last 10 years. The real-life siblings have clean images, so fans respond favorably to them.
“Their performance in the ring — not because they’re my partners — proves they’re the best wrestlers I’ve ever seen in my life,” he says. “The U.S. market caught on to that. They’ve been with AEW from the beginning.”
Teaming with the Lucha Brothers just made sense.
“I told them, ‘I don’t know any wrestler after age 50 who has a nest egg, because they hadn’t invested their money wisely. I don’t want you guys to be that,’” he recalled.
“They love learning, and they’re for any crazy idea we’ve had with this store. Let’s play crazy movies. Let’s do this T-shirt or this design. When you see how the locals have responded to it, it makes sense. We knew this was going to happen.”