Bob Regon operates a strange business in an off-the-beaten-path location and still manages to turn a profit each year, even during the economic downturn.
Zcastle, on Glen Avenue behind Walgreens at Sahara Avenue and Boulder Highway, caters to people with a medieval bent, who dress in Renaissance garb and engage in sword fights and ax-throwing competitions at weekend fairs.
There are 15 Renaissance groups active in Las Vegas, Regon said.
On a recent morning, Randy Ralston was at Zcastle having his chain-mail-armor suit altered, which costs about $1,200, not including accessories. He stops by the specialty store about twice a week to see what's new.
Zcastle opened in 2004 as a franchise pilot store for Las Vegas-based Askma Inc. and was initially known for its selection of swords and knives. A Norman sword is marked down to $200 from $250, the last of the display models. A Viking sword, one of the best-sellers for combat, is priced at $129.
Regon, manager of Zcastle and treasurer of its parent company, said most customers learn about the store through word-of-mouth. He also advertises via a billboard on Eastern Avenue.
"Every year we've grown and gotten bigger," Regon said. "I'll tell you why. Because we listen. When someone comes in the door and wants something, if we don't have it, we'll find it for them. Ladies came in and wanted jewelry, so we added jewelry. Ladies came in and wanted clothing, so we added clothing. Then we found that all the clothing doesn't fit, so we found a seamstress."
The 1,000-square-foot store is crammed with costumes and jewelry, shields and helmets, shoes, boots, incense and oils. Regon is looking to double his space, preferably in the same strip center.
Zcastle is among hundreds of off-the-wall businesses in Las Vegas that get by on skimpy budgets and minimal advertising, usually filling a void left by corporate giants. They're often mom-and-pop owners who know their customers by name.
Professional taxidermist Allen Silberstein, owner of Compassionate Pet Cremation in Henderson, learned that his business life couldn't be as stiff as the animals he stuffed forever. When someone suggested he start a pet cremation business five years ago, he had no idea what such a venture would entail.
"I found it's very emotional," Silberstein said in the bereavement room, where a trickling waterfall softens the mood and decorative urns are on display. "For most of the people, it's like family or children, everything they have. For some people, it's all they have."
Tossing the family pet into the incinerator and reducing it to bones and dust may seem like a morbid business, but Silberstein said he feels good about helping people when they're hurting.
"I try to make it dignified," he said. "I know it's cliché, but it's true. The love they give and the love they get from their pets, it's not found anywhere."
Prices start at about $100 for small dogs and cats, increasing to $250 for animals weighing up to 160 pounds. The service includes a complimentary urn and memorial card with plaster paw print and lock of hair.
Ornate urns run from $28 for a small cedar wood urn to $330 for a 14-karat gold jewelry urn.
From adult superstores to homosexual spas and salons, Las Vegas has many businesses that might not fly in more conservative cities. Alternative weekly City Life, published by Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Business Press owner Stephens Media, advertises a medical marijuana business alongside a number to call because "you can't spank yourself."
Ken Foose, owner of Exotic Pets, specializes in species not found at typical pet shops. He's got Colombian boas, albino pythons, leopard geckos and green iguanas. How about a baby bearded dragon for $50? And if you want a pet that eats whatever it can find in the cupboard, he's got scorpions, tarantulas and centipedes.
Foose expanded his 17-year-old business to 2,400 square feet at Rancho Air Center, 2410 N. Decatur Blvd., because he needed more room for all the critters.
Some of them may end up at Silberstein's business. He said he's cremated birds, snakes, ferrets, hamsters, even a 200-pound potbellied pig.
Running a business that's outside the normal retail realm takes a strong work ethic, said "Mad Man," owner of Mad Man Army Surplus at 6040 W. Sahara Ave. (Surprise, surprise: Mad Man refused to give his name for this story.)
"People that are lazy and complain about the economy don't survive," he said.
Mad Man has been in business for 30 years and at the same location for 10 years. The "boutique" store sells ammunition boxes, military clothing and gear, dome tents and mess kits. He gets items from a variety of sources, including the government, private companies and Internet wholesalers.
It's not Target or Wal-Mart. Georgia boots are $100 to $150. Dickies brand shirts and pants are $30 to $40. Minichopper motorbikes are $1,000 to $2,400. When people come in looking for something cheap, Mad Man sends them to Wal-Mart.
"It's like buying a cheap pizza for $10 or a good pizza where you pay $20," Mad Man said. "You don't go in and say it's cheaper over there. You just go there."
Used record stores weren't such a strange business 40 years ago. There were several within two blocks of most colleges. Vinyl albums gave way to eight-track cartridges, cassette tapes, digitally mastered compact discs and now MP3s. Few people even own a turntable now; many consumers download music to their iPods.
Still, Leonard Leavitt makes a living buying and selling old albums at three Record City stores in Las Vegas and one in San Diego. He operated as many as 10 stores in 1994, but had to close some of them. His first Record City at 4555 E. Charleston Blvd. remains open.
Leavitt said he usually pays 25 cents to 50 cents an album, or $5 for a box of them.
"There's some albums we pay more for, depending on the condition," Leavitt said. "If somebody brings in Lawrence Welk or Kenny Rogers records, we don't buy them because there's so many of them. They were always on the record club lists."
The Beatles "butcher cover," a rare version of the 1966 album "Yesterday and Today" in a controversial sleeve -- that's worth about $1,500, he estimated.
Business has been steady overall at Record City, which also deals in tapes, CDs and digital video discs.
During a recession, people shop at thrift stores and less expensive formats, Leavitt said. Also, they're more likely to sell their possessions when times are tough, he said. That's why his inventory is up to more than 30,000 albums.
"It thrives because there's people that like to reminisce about the past and part of that is their albums," Leavitt said. "Old people like to have them. It's people who like the sound of vinyl over a CD. There is a definite difference."
For smokers who don't like the smoke, a kiosk at Las Vegas Premium Outlet mall sells electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. It's a controversial new product that mimics tobacco smoke by vaporizing liquid nicotine. It looks like a cigarette, feels like a cigarette and tastes like a cigarette. Take a puff and the end glows.
They can be used in restaurants, on airplanes and in other nonsmoking environments, a salesman at the kiosk said.
An e-cigarette package with battery charger and refill cartridges sells for $170, though a Chinese-made version goes for about $60.
Food and Drug Administration officials have said they found cancer-causing ingredients in e-cigarettes, despite manufacturers' claims that the product is safer than tobacco cigarettes.
Contact reporter Hubble Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0491.