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Toons is discovered by Business Journal

Here’s a very nice article about the unique film collection at TOONS.
Reprinted from The Colorado Springs Business Journal:

‘Oasis’ for the offbeat
By BOZENA WELBORNE, Editorial Intern

Most people, when they think of Toons — if they’ve heard of the store at all — will envision a graffiti-ridden former gas station-turned-store on Nevada Avenue. Its location and its ambience make it a likely hangout for the Colorado College students in its vicinity.

But it’s much more than that. Toons actually draws much of its clientele from “working, commuting students from UCCS or other community colleges, as well as students who come by during the holidays,” said Eric Verlo, the founder of the music, video and vintage items store.

The store has an eclectic collection of videos, used albums and CDs, vintage posters and collectibles that run the gamut from “clairvoyant,” heat-sensitive gummy fish (the cheapest item in the store at 25 cents, and very popular with those CC students) to $2,000 vintage jukeboxes (the most expensive item and the least likely to be sold, Verlo says).

Most of the used goods come directly from the closets and attics of the Colorado Springs community. Generally, Toons will purchase used items at 50 percent of their original price, though it may vary according to the quality of the item or how many copies of the item Toons has in stock.

Toons’ owner is especially proud of the store’s diverse video collection, with 4,700 titles and maintains they are not merely hard-to-find videos, but videos the average person has “probably never even heard of.” What the store can’t make up in number, it makes up in the sheer diversity of its collection. There is also a very strong Eastern European film collection, as well as the obligatory French films.

Verlo emphasizes the highly academic nature of a portion of the collection, maintaining that many of the films are chosen specifically because of their sociopolitical or cultural significance.

Because the store carries such a diverse assortment of items diverging from the mainstream, Verlo is hard-pressed to identify any competitors. The most likely candidates would be Media Play, Best Buy and Blockbuster Video. Verlo says those retailers are just beginning to realize the potential of catering to the non-mainstream market, of “introducing people to new things,” and may increasingly compete directly with Toons.

Few people know that there are actually two Toons stores, one at 802 N. Nevada Ave., but also a less well-known store at 3163 W. Colorado Ave. The latter, actually called the Bookman, opened first in 1990, while the Nevada Avenue location opened at the site of an old gas station in 1993, in a conscious effort to drift away from the typical strip-mall-feel evident at many stores.

Verlo came up with the idea of opening such a store while visiting his retired parents in Colorado Springs. Verlo started contemplating what he would do after his own retirement and, considering his passion for books, decided that he would like to own a bookstore and thus, the initial idea of Toons was formed. Verlo’s unique life has also had an influence on the eclectic nature of the store. Verlo is a graduate of UCLA who has lived in France and the Philippines, and has traveled extensively.

Verlo estimates startup costs fell somewhere in the $10,000 range. Since the idea of the store was a gradual development, the inventory itself was gradually collected without a specific vision. So, the cost of accumulating the inventory wound up being more expensive. Today, Verlo knows that probably was not the best way to purchase the store’s inventory, but the method is responsible for the store’s unique, museum-like feel. He emphasizes that the store’s existence is not really driven as much by a profit motive as it is by the idea of creating a collection of unusual items to intrigue and be enjoyed by the entire community. Toons is still pretty much breaking even with any excess profit immediately re-invested into enlarging the diversity of the store’s wares. This accentuates the fact that it is really a labor of love on Verlo’s part, as well as that of the staff.

Although it expanded to the Nevada Avenue store in 1993, Toons is now branching out onto the Internet with its own Web site at www.toonsmusic.com. The store’s staff created and maintains the site.

Ironically, Colorado Springs’ growth has not benefited Toons. Verlo said most of the growth has been at the outskirts of the city. Because of this, he says, fewer people come downtown, where the store is located.

Currently, Toons is trying to attract a more upscale, older clientele at the Nevada Avenue store and has consequently sectioned off a portion of the store, hoping to appeal to this new client base. Jitterbuzz.com, a top Washington D.C.-based Web site for swing and lindy hop aficionados, called the section “the largest swing selection of any record store in town (Colorado Springs).” Verlo hopes the store’s new setup offers some variety, while allowing the older and younger generations to choose whether to interact or keep to themselves.

Verlo believes that Toons’ ultimate legacy for the Colorado Springs community is its very existence. It provides the city with an oasis of non-mainstream ideas. Verlo advises those who seek success or at least contentment in the business arena to “do what (they) want in life,” as he did in creating Toons.

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