On Citrus Street in downtown Covina is The Zoo, a punk clothing and accessory store. On its right is Toytanic/Dog Gone Cute Pet Boutique, a small pet clothing and accessory store with smiling plastic Chihuahuas dressed in robes, modeling in the front window. On the other side of the shop is Collector’s Alley, an antique store with toy bunnies, dolls sitting in oversized chairs, a rocking horse and shaggy lamps.
The Zoo is a small narrow building, almost invisible except for the mannequin in the window wearing old school punk clothing and sporting a spiky atomic orange wig. The store sells the usual of any punk store: band t-shirt, pins, stickers and retro rockabilly sunglasses.
Geoff Perez, 37 is the owner of “The Zoo,” which has only been open four months. There are a few other shops in downtown Covina that sell the same products, but Perez has been able to stay competitive because he doesn’t sport the mean “punk” attitude that the rest of the punk shop employees shell out. Walk into some of the stores and employees won’t even look up to greet customers.
From the back of the store Perez appeared. He had been out of the store for the past three days.
“I run the shop every day,” Perez said. “If I need help I’ll bring in my mom to watch the shop.”
Another thing that has kept The Zoo in the black so far is that Perez has been able to keep the shop all by himself: that’s right, no employees.
“My wife helps out as well,” Perez said. “She gets every other Friday off. On her days off she helps me out.”
When he first opened the store, Perez was able to employ one high school boy in anticipation of the holiday season.
“He ended up getting a job with a convalescent home,” Perez said.
Perez was thankful he had someone working with him during the Christmas season.
“It’s a small shop, it’s manageable,” Perez said.
As far as finances, “My wife does all the books,” Perez said.
Perez called his wife to get a ballpark number so far: $3,500-$4,000. “When we first came, we signed a lease for one year, $1,500 a month for the first year,” Perez said. “Next year it’s going to go up $200.”
As the only employee has kept Perez busy.
“When you own your own business, you put in a lot of hours,” Perez said. “My wife and I are always talking about business; it takes a lot from you.”
A young boy came into the store asking for any Rob Zombie shirts. Perez noted that he did not have any in stock but can order some especially for the boy if he told him what size is needed.
On the outside of the store is a flyer for guitar and bass lessons, an ad for a show, a poster for “Guys and Dolls” presented by Charter Oak High School, stickers on the door and black canvas purses and posters pinned to the ceiling.
On the inside, the ceiling is painted black and cloth posters cover the light fixtures. Punk shirts hang off the wall like third dimensional wallpaper. The shop seems very cool despite the overwhelming heat wave going on outside.
“Staying in retail you never know if you’re going to have a good day or bad day,” Perez said. “There’s some days when no one comes in and days where for no reason [it’s busy].”
Perez has taken a fresh “nice guy” approach that other punk stores in the area lack.
“A lot of it has to do with product and customer service,” Perez said. “We try very hard to go out of our way to serve the customer. We greet everybody; always thank them for shopping here.”
As far as competitors, “On a big level, probably Hot Topic,” Perez said.
For 2004, Hop Topic had annual revenue of $656 million. Hot Topic has taken the punk store atmosphere and turned alternative culture into a large corporation. Perez had a customer who said he couldn’t find what he was looking for at Hot Topic so they referred him to The Zoo.
“The mall knows about us,” Perez said.
On a local level, Perez doesn’t feel he has any competitors.
“But I’ve heard from the kids that The World’s End and Kaos don’t like us,” Perez said. “I always tell people to see his shop I want him to make it too,” Perez said.
Kyle Lumseen, owner of The World’s End hasn’t been inside The Zoo yet.
“They’re fine,” Lumseeen said.
Lumseen isn’t worried about losing customers.
“I think the whole Covina area, we play off of each other,” Lumseen said. “We don’t sell exactly the same (products). Our’s is a little boutique.”
The World’s End has been in business for two years.
“Any business can last if they stay motivated and they know their customers,” Lumseen said.
Kaos Records is one of the oldest punk stores in downtown Covina and has moved twice in the same area.
“We’ve been here forever,” Priscilla Estrada, an employee for Kaos Records said. “We’ve had the same customers, we haven’t lost any customers.”
Estrada has been working at Kaos Records part-time for four years. She is one of two girls working for the owner.
“We don’t really need that many people,” Estrada said. “High school kids come in and ask to apply.”
“There are no hours to give,” Estrada said.
“(Geoff) is real nice, his wife is real nice,” Charles Witoofsky, owner of Collector’s Alley said. “They don’t give me any problems at all.”
“He has a different clientele than I do,” Witoofsky said.
Perez has made some changes to the store.
“I painted all the ceiling,” Perez said. “When I came in, the ceiling was white.
All the cabinets they were basic white bottoms, I put the felt in. When I first started it was a bunch of t-shirts. Now we’re getting button-up shirts and jackets.”
Perez grew up in the area but currently lives in Pomona. His brother owns the “Citrus Valley Florist” just up the street. Perez had worked as a glazer since he was 18; this is his first job away from being a glazer and a union member. He went from the guy sweeping the floors to the president of his union. That’s when he decided to start his own small business.
“I wanted to be my own boss,” Perez said. “Just got tired of working for other people, just wanted to work for myself.”
Alexandra Lozano can be reached at email@example.com.
Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.