You’ve probably seen it on Telegraph Avenue near where the road passes under the 24 Freeway, a sign depicting a giant, green reptile with wheels for legs. Many have asked: is it a dragon or a dinosaur?
“This is Rentee, and it’s a dinosaur,” Todd Connors, co-owner of rental car agency Rent-A-Relic, said in a recent interview.
Rich Craig, Connors’ 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 quirky brand because at the end of the day we’re a rental car agency that’s 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, which has since become a landmark in North Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.
“My son named it and honestly he could have named it 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 rental.
When Craig first opened Rent-A-Relic in 1992, he was 23 years old and had several years of experience as an Enterprise employee. “I was trying to do everything myself and I was overwhelmed,” Craig said. The Washington, DC resident wanted to be an entrepreneur but desperately needed support.
Six months later, he asked his friend Todd Connors if he wanted a job. They had only recently met at a party at a mutual friend’s house in San Francisco, but “we had 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 several years of working together, Craig sold Connors a significant portion of the company, and 30 years later the two friends continue to run Rent-A-Relic together. Every day, they deal with dozens of customers looking to rent a car or notarize a document through their side business, Aardvark Notary. “We’re both pretty social people, so you have to be adaptable and be able to talk to people and quickly assess what they need,” Connors said.
Both move seamlessly between handling phone calls and assisting walk-in customers. If Connors is busy, there’s smooth delivery for Craig, who then walks the customer through the process of renting one of their 160 or so cars.
Craig and Connors say they owe much of their success to loyal customers who continue to rent from them and refer out-of-towners. “We’ve become kind of an iconic business in a now iconic neighborhood in Oakland, which is beautiful, and we’re grateful because there are so many anonymous businesses that no one pays attention to,” Craig said.
In early 2020, Dinosaur Rentee followed the business as it moved from its old location, a small shed at 4444 Telegraph Ave, which is now part of the Root’d In The 510 cannabis dispensary, to a new location in 5501 Telegraph. Ave. “We had a big parade when we marched it down here. Customers were coming out of stores along Telegraph Avenue to see what we were doing,” Connors said.
A few months later, the pandemic hit and the Bay Area’s regional shutdown order forced many business owners to close their stores. But rental car agencies were deemed essential, so Rent-a-Relic remained open. “Our caper of offering long-term rentals is what’s 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 about the rising national cost of cars and the high cost of renting out commercial properties, their car agency has outperformed some of the more prominent rental agencies such as Enterprise and Ugly Duckling Rent-A-Car, which once had locations in North Oakland that eventually closed. .
Craig is grateful that their business has endured for so many years, especially through the ongoing pandemic that has caused the larger rental companies to sell 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’s such a great place. I think I would continue the business, but it would be a big blow,” said Craig.