After a brief encounter with a fellow customer at a LEGO store in Greenville, John Lamers came up with the idea of forming a small group of South Carolinian LEGO enthusiasts in 2018. The two met at the “Pick a Brick” wall, where customers can purchase a small cup to fill with as many assorted LEGO pieces as they can fit inside it.
“I was admiring his (stacking) skills, and he was looking at my skills, and it was really funny, and I was like, ‘You do a good job stacking that cup,’” Lamers said.
In the years since, the group Lamers formed – the SC Bricks LEGO User Group – has not only hosted two Brick Con events in Columbia but, according to Lammers, has also developed a community of individuals who use LEGO to express their creativity and connect with loved ones.
Lamers, the ambassador of the S.C. Bricks LEGO User Group, said the group started small in the beginning, holding its first meetings in his home garage.
“I have a big garage here with a lot of LEGO in it, and we would just sit around and talk about LEGO," Lamers said. "We would just enjoy the fact that we were all LEGO nerds and that we were with our own kind."
Lamers said the feeling of belonging stemmed from the belief that LEGO is a hobby that people must keep under wraps.
“For a lot of people, LEGO is just something you kind of do in your garage, or in your rec room, or maybe with your kids,” Lamers said.
According to Lamers, however, this misconception is changing. LEGO enthusiasts have become more widely accepted with television shows such as "LEGO Masters" becoming part of the mainstream media and LEGO as a whole experiencing growth by developing more pieces.
S.C. Bricks has similarly grown over time, especially when the LEGO User Group was officially recognized by LEGO in 2020.
“Most of us, (who) have been around for a while, have been in the LEGO world doing conventions or shows before the LUG started,” Lamers said. “Now that we’re officially a LUG and we’re recognized by LEGO, now we can go do much more stuff. We get access to more LEGO — we have a little bit more name recognition because we can say that we’re a recognized LUG.”
As a LEGO User Group, S.C. Bricks holds monthly virtual and in-person meetings where members, known as "adult fans of LEGO," talk about LEGO and participate in “parts drafts." In these “parts drafts,” pieces from pre-purchased sets are divided up, and members can select the pieces they want like they would in a fantasy football draft.
The Lego User Group also hosts conventions in various locations throughout the state where members can show off their creative displays and interact with members of the local community.
Last year, S.C. Bricks held its first convention in Columbia, an optimal host city because of its central location within the state, which provides the opportunity to increase membership, according to Brick Con event coordinator Kipp Hoffman.
Lamers said S.C. Bricks decided to host Brick Con in Columbia for a second year because of the success of the previous year’s event, which received around 250 visitors and raised $1,200 for Epworth Children’s Home. In the future, Hoffman hopes S.C. Bricks can double its earnings and donate to both Epworth Children's Home and the children's department of the Richland County Public Library.
"When we realized what we could do and how we're already expanding and hoping to do a lot more this year, we don't want to just corner ourselves into one charity," Hoffman said.
The 2023 edition of Columbia Brick Con featured intricate LEGO displays, including a city and amusement park with motorized trains and roller coasters, as well as a LEGO car racing track and cosplayers dressed as "Star Wars" characters.
The event also served as a reminder for many members as to why they enjoy LEGO in the first place.
Cameron Keel, S.C. Bricks’ membership director, bought LEGO sets in 2019 to pass the time while recovering from an injury he suffered practicing jiu-jitsu. Keel, who joined SC Bricks in December 2022 and spent nearly 40 hours building a replica of a battle scene from "Star Wars," said he enjoys LEGO’s ability to appeal to anyone.
“No matter if you’re a 'Star Wars' fan or a Marvel fan, or if you just want to build flowers and small vignettes, LEGO literally has everything for everyone,” Keel said.
For S.C. Bricks member Rob McMahon, building with LEGOs is an activity that allows him to bond with this young son.
“He started getting into LEGO, and we bought a bunch of sets,” McMahon said. “We spend a lot of time building LEGO, and it’s something he enjoys doing. It was important for me to kind of bond with him a little bit beyond sports and school.”
Hoffman said his favorite aspect of LEGO is that it provides an opportunity for everyone, young and old, to express themselves creatively.
“Whether or not you’re five years old or you’re 50 years old, with what we do, we just let our imagination fly. You might have a city that’s being attacked by a bunch of different alien creatures and being protected by all the different superheroes, yet someone else might have a medieval scene," Hoffman said. "It’s kind of a hodgepodge where everybody is going to find something that they really enjoy out of it.”
At events like Brick Con, Lamers said he enjoys seeing how his creations can have a lasting impact on those who witness them.
“The thing that I love the most out of anything is, once I’m done setting up, I get to stand back and watch the parents and their kids look at these things and just watch their faces and (see) the excitement in their eyes,” Lamers said.
As Hoffman looks toward the future, he hopes S..C Bricks can host Brick Con events in more locations throughout the state. Along with hosting Brick Con in Columbia, the Lego User Group has sent members to conventions in Walterboro and Augusta. This year, S.C. Bricks will expand in the Greenville market for the first time when it hosts an event at Soiree 2023 in Anderson, South Carolina on April 29.
With LEGO continuing to grow in popularity, Lamers said he anticipates similar growth prospects for the Lego User Group with regard to membership.
“I, personally, would love to see our LUG be one of the biggest in LEGO,” Lamers said. “I think we could literally have hundreds of members. It’s just a matter of people knowing about us and understanding what a LUG is and what a LUG can do for you.”