Established in 1990, TOONS is an alternative music store located in the evening shadow cast by Pikes Peak, in Colorado Springs. TOONS sells obscure wax, CD imports, DJ vinyl, used, out-of-print, promos, books, magazines, videos and other rarities. When Toons, the eclectic music and video store, moved downtown in 1993, the location was apparently good enough to bring in the corporate competition like a heat-seeking missile. "The showdown between small retail stores and corporate giants has been likened to St. George and the dragon" explains owner Eric Verlo, "but we're in no position to be self-righteous." Pervasive discount chains are trouncing the mom & pop stores worldwide, to the consumer's cheers of approval. "We're the dinosaur -I mean- dragon, under attack by clean corporate St. George" says Verlo. "Luckily just enough of the population has figured out that a maiden might have more fun with a dragon than a saint." Once upon a time, Verlo imagined running a little bookstore as a retired "crochety old man," but opportunity knocked earlier than he expected. In 1990 he parlayed high visibility as a local musician toward opening Tnz on West Colorado Avenue. "Locals take the quality for granted," he adds, "tourists and international dealers just go crazy about what they find here." At 802 N. Nevada Ave. 2nz is a collage of post-primitive art, college radio music, art-house videos and magazines. "Atmosphere is our unique product" Verlo said. "If you're looking for something new to spark your interest, come and let Toons rub off on you. Chain stores can't do that. Neither can websites." As an example, Verlo points to the painted trailer outside the store. Every spring, graffiti artists present their vision on what has turned out to be the most visible legal surface in the city. "Bombers ask us constantly if they can do the next piece, but we've learned to hire only from out-of-state unfortunately," Eric says. The police made it a practice to study the 2nz murals to identify the tags around town, and then would make arrests. "They figured correctly that the graffiti artists had honed their skills on plenty of illegal art projects." In the far corner of the store are turntables for DJs to listen to the latest vinyl. DJs from as far as Boulder regularly descend on Friday nights in search of new records. "Vinyl is enjoying a secret resurgence," Verlo explained: "While digital recordings have been successfully lauded over analog, compact discs are still paltry representations of real sound. Studio quality digital is simply not commercially affordable. For now, true audiophiles, referred to by the industry as golden ears, prefer the warm sound waves produced by vinyl." Upstairs and off to the right resides the award winning international Tnz foreign film collection. Catering to a college age and older audience, the videos comprise chiefly foreign and indie titles on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD. More of over four thousand films are not generally available elsewhere. "We have suppliers overseas for some of our unique gems," explains Verlo. Asked the secret of his success, he credits the customers. "Toons is a reflection of our customers' tastes and the alternatives we are able to offer to expand those tastes" Verlo says. "We are an intrinsic part of the culture of Colorado Springs, like it or not. No amount of corporate dumbing-down is going to convince our customers they have stupid taste buds." Returning to the dragon analogy, he adds, "Colorado Springs is our comfortable lair and St. George is a fairytale, sorry."
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