Five Questions for Aristeo Rodriguez, the entrepreneurial music nerd behind El Guapo

We’re kicking off a new feature called Five Questions today with Aristeo Rodriguez, aka DJ Aris, aka A-rod. He’s the owner of El Guapo Records at 257 South Broadway, a few doors down from ETX Brewery and a few doors up from Moon Rivers Naturals. In collaboration with the other vendors on the strip, El Guapo cohosts a monthly block party with live performance, food, and art. The record store also hosts a poetry night series. They have a whole lot of killer records for you to browse and buy, and the inventory moves fast. You can check out some of Rodriguez’s latest acquisitions here, and if you don’t own a record player, you can pick one up for under $100 at El Guapo.

How did El Guapo come to be?

It’s something I’ve been wanting to do forever. I’ve been collecting records for a long time, just as a music nerd. Music is in our family; my brother’s been DJ’ing since 1994, and my cousin is a recording artist in Mexico. When I first started DJ’ing, you had to drive all the way to Dallas to get dance records. If you messed up your records, you had to drive all the way back to replace them. That was expensive! I always thought it would be cool to have a record store of my own, and I wanted to do it on this block.

Moon Rivers Naturals and all these other little shops starting popping up here, and I drove by the strip one day to check it out. I saw the truck of a buddy of mine who works with the company that does electrical work for these shops, so I pulled up to say hi. The property manager just happened to drive up a few minutes later. My buddy introduced me and said, “Hey, this is A-rod—Aristeo—the guy I was telling you about. He wants to do a record store.” The property manager walked me over to look at this spot, and it was perfect. It’s shotgun-style, perfect for a record store, just a perfect location. I was like, there’s no way I can afford this, but the property manager said this was the direction they wanted to go, and we could work it out. It all just came together.

Clearly you feel there is a local audience for your store. How are you reaching that audience?

The block parties are a huge part of it. The block parties are free, and the talent you can come out and see is tremendous. And it’s totally family-friendly — you can bring your kids. We’ve had comedy acts, live music, snow cones, movies playing at Lightbox Collective . . . A couple block parties ago, we had a local band called Sewerville. These kids are kids — the drummer’s 12. They’re punk rockers, and they’re incredible. We sell their CD here at the shop.

We’ve always had local talent in town, incredible local bands, local reps, but for the longest time people would always move to Austin or Houston ’cause there weren’t a lot of places in town for them to do their stuff. Now, there’s breweries, coffee shops, the block party — there isn’t a day without music here in Tyler. What we’re trying to do on this block is give people a hub.

You’ve lived in Tyler for a long time. Is it surprising to you to see this sort of local energy downtown?

Nothing against the big box guys; you need them in certain ways. But here, we strive to keep everything local, and to help each other out. A lot of us have known each other for years, and we’re doing our absolute best to provide services for local artists and entertainers. We’re giving a lot of locals an outlet. I mean, the art is here [on the walls at El Guapo] is incredible. These are all local artists.

The scene is growing. People are done with being told “no.” My daughter is 11, and I want there to be cool stuff in town for her and her friends. It’s a little bit more progressive thinking, allowing for the next generation to change things up in the way we do things. And because of that, more people are staying here, and not moving away. Now, some people who left town are actually saying they’re thinking about moving back, cause they see we’re building up a cool scene here.

Are there particular types of businesses you’d like to see pop up in downtown next?

Anything! Bring it. It doesn’t have to be hip. A nice little local eatery would be awesome. Local is key; we don’t need a Chili’s down there (laughs).

A view of El Guapo and its neighbors on Off the Square Downtown.

I want people to walk here. This is one thing that bothers me. You’ll drive to Austin and park eight blocks away to go eat, no problem, but if you’re going to downtown Tyler, you get pissed off if you can’t find parking, even through there’s a parking garage 100 feet from Don Juan’s and The Foundry and the brewery. If they can’t park right outside, they go home!

I live three miles from here. I walk to work sometimes, or ride my skateboard here, and I’ll bring my kids with me. People give me a hard time about it. Wait, you walk to work? With your kids? I tell them, it takes forty-five minutes! There’s no reason why we couldn’t walk to downtown. Now, it’s true that we don’t have enough sidewalks. That’s being worked on, and we’re very grateful for that. But there’s a sidewalk from [El Guapo] all the way to Bergfeld Park. It’s a beautiful walk! People think that in Texas, you’re supposed to drive! But the walking culture is growing, and more and more, you do see it.

How would you like to see this block evolve?

I want to see growth, but I want it to be us. A lot of people are like, this could be like ‘little Austin’! I’m like, no, no, no! I’m not knocking Austin, or Denton, or Deep Ellum. Those are all rad places. But it’s us doing it our own way, cause we’re not a big city. I don’t want us to try to be Deep Ellum, I want us to be Off the Square. Kind of laid back, kind of country, but a little more progressive.

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Tasneem Raja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside. A pioneer in data journalism and local nonprofit news startups, she co-founded The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized community news platform in East Texas. She was a senior editor at NPR's Code Switch and at Mother Jones, where the team she led helped built the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She started her career as features reporter at The Chicago Reader and The Philadelphia Weekly, and lives in Oakland with her husband and two imperious terriers.