You’ve probably seen it on Telegraph avenue near where the street passes under Highway 24, a sign depicting a giant, green reptile with wheels for legs. Many have asked: is it a dragon or a dinosaur?
“That’s Rentee, and it is a dinosaur,” Todd Connors, co-owner of car rental agency Rent-A-Relic, said in a recent interview.
Rich Craig, Connors’s business partner and founder of Rent-A-Relic, said they were looking for a fun logo to match their quirky company name. “We choose to go with a whimsical branding because at the end of the day we’re a car rental agency which is more focused on serious customer service, but we try to have fun with it,” Craig said.
Oakland-based artist Alan Leon worked with the duo to design Rentee, who has since become something of a landmark in North Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.
“My son named him, and honestly he could have named him anything and that would have been the name,” Craig said, “but it turned out to be a great name.”
Rent-A-Relic has been around for a long time in Temescal. This year the company celebrates 30 years of business, mainly long-term car rentals.
When Craig first opened Rent-A-Relic in 1992, he was 23 and had a couple of years of experience as an employee with Enterprise. “I was trying to do everything myself and I was overwhelmed, Craig said. The Washington, D.C. native wanted to be an entrepreneur but was in dire need of support.
Six months later, he asked his friend Todd Connors if he wanted a job. They had only recently met at a mutual friend’s house party in San Francisco but, “we’d been playing sports together and going to concerts, so I just offered him a job,” Craig said. Connors, who moved to the Bay Area from New York to study anthropology at California State University East Bay, said yes.
After a couple of years of working together, Craig sold Connors a sizeable company share, and 30 years later the two friends continue to run Rent-A-Relic together. Every day, they deal with dozens of customers seeking to lease a car or notarize a document through their side business, Aardvark Notary. “We’re both pretty social people, so you need to be adaptable and be able to talk to people and quickly gauge what they need,” Connors said.
The two move seamlessly between screening phone calls and helping walk-in customers. If Connors is busy, there’s a smooth handoff to Craig who then walks the customer through the process of leasing one of their approximately 160 cars.
Craig and Connors say they owe a bulk of their success to the loyal customers who continue to lease from them and refer out-of-towners. “We’ve kind of become this iconic business in a now iconic neighborhood in Oakland which is cool and we’re grateful because there are so many anonymous businesses that nobody pays attention to,” Craig said.
At the beginning of 2020, Rentee the dinosaur followed the business as it moved from its old location, a small shack at 4444 Telegraph Ave, which is now part of the cannabis dispensary Root’d In The 510, to a new location at 5501 Telegraph Ave. “We had a big parade when we marched him down here. Customers were coming out of stores along Telegraph Avenue to see what we were doing,” said Connors.
A couple of months later, the pandemic began and the Bay Area’s regional shutdown order forced many business owners to close their shops. But rental car agencies were deemed essential so Rent-a-Relic remained open. “Our niche of offering long-term rentals is what probably kept us going because we have a certain number of cars that are always on rent, and all those people continued to rent with us [through the shelter-in-place order],” Connors said.
Despite concerns over the rising national cost of cars and the high cost of leasing commercial properties, their car agency has outlasted several more prominent rental agencies such as Enterprise and Ugly Duckling Rent-A-Car which used to have locations in North Oakland that eventually shuttered.
Craig is grateful to have their business endure so many years, especially through the ongoing pandemic that caused larger rental companies to sell off their fleets. He said he hopes to remain rooted in Temescal for years to come.
“I really couldn’t imagine leaving this neighborhood because it is such a great place. I guess I would keep the business going, but it would be a huge blow,” Craig said.