Temescal car rental shop Rent-a-Relic has been neighborhood institution for 20 years
on January 9, 2012
The Rent-a-Relic sign—a green-and-purple spiked dinosaur on wheels that sits smiling on top of the office building—is what first catches the eye when driving past the rental auto lot Telegraph Avenue. It was designed by Oakland muralist Alan Leon, who comes back to the car rental shop to touch it up every year.
“This is our most notable thing,” says Rich Craig, the founder of Rent-a-Relic, as he sits behind a desk inside the office on a weekday morning. Craig co-owns the shop with Todd Connors, who is sitting across the desk from Craig. It’s a quiet morning at the shop, with a few customers wandering in the door every so often, who Connors gets up to assist.
“He’s a super likable guy, he was interesting before we engaged him in this,” Connors adds, referring to Leon. “He definitely felt like he was part of the Rent-a-Relic family. He brought his dad over here to meet us …”
“He rented a car from us,” Craig says.
That would make him just like everyone else in the neighborhood, from the waitstaff at Pizzaiolo to tattoo artists at Tattoo 13, who have all walked under the sign and taken a car out. This year, Rent-a-Relic celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Because Rent-a-Relic is independently owned and operated, and is located in the middle of a city, rather than out at the airport, it doesn’t draw the typical car rental customer on a business trip or family vacation. Instead, the shop specializes in longer-term rentals, typically for people who want a car they can basically treat as their own for a couple months.
The “relics” available to rent at Rent-a-Relic are four-door automatics with air conditioning, Toyota Corollas, Nissan Sentras and Ford Focuses. The prices and dates are flexible, so people can rent for months at a time. “We’ve had customers start with a week rental,” Connors says, “and it transitioned to 8 or 9 months.”
Some of the customers live in the immediate area, and Connors and Craig will run into them when they’re out having lunch. “That’s the funny thing about being in business so long,” Craig says. “We run into our customers everywhere.”
But because it’s quirky and unique, Rent-a-Relic also attracts loyal customers from unique groups that may not typically come to mind. Reggae musicians, for example.
“It’s funny, because you rent to one of them, and he has a good experience and he tells everybody else,” Connors says. “One of our customers is a guy named Rocker T, who is pretty well known. He comes in here one day and is like, ‘I just recorded a song with Joan Baez.’ And you’re like, ‘What?’”
“I thought she was an old hippie,” Craig says.
Craig and Connors, both East Coast transplants (Craig from Washington D.C., Connors from Long Island, New York), have been friends for the past two decades. They banter easily, talking over each other or interrupting without hesitation. Craig opened the shop in June of 1992 and hired Connors less than a year later. They also moved to the current location from the original spot on 41st Street and Broadway that first year.
“We’ve always been in this neighborhood,” Craig says. “We’ve seen this neighborhood flourish.”
When they first moved in, the only neighborhood mainstays were the McDonald’s next door and the Jack in the Box across the street. The now-closed Casper’s hot dog stand, on the traffic island facing the shop, was thriving. But none of the other celebrated restaurants, like Burma Superstar and Dona Tomas, existed yet.
“There’s a real buzz going on here,” Craig says. “When we first started here, it was sleepy. There was nothing going on. So we’ve really enjoyed it, getting lunch here and everything, but there’s also this feeling of vibrancy, and the business is successful due to that.”
Craig and Connors agree that the neighborhood has been on a consistent upswing, especially the past few years. Connors notes that it has been years since he had to call the cops to break up a fight of Oakland Tech students in the parking lot. “The kids aren’t even as annoying and loud” any more, Connors says.
The Rent-a-Relic owners also say they’re happy they’ve been able to become a neighborhood institution, and are surprised at how loyal customers are. “The very first guy we ever rented a car to showed up the other day to say hello,” Connors says.
“Our very first customer ever stops by all the time,” Craig says, starting to speak before Connors is finished. “It’s kind of remarkable.”
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