Black Zone: a home for rockeros and metalheads

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Norma Sagastume started selling at Golden West Swap Meet in the ’90s. Photo by Geovanni Esparza/ el Don

A family of three rushed into an already crowded store with eager smiles on their faces as screeching vocals attacked their eardrums. They zipped around like kids in a candy store, but instead of gawking over chocolates and sweets, they searched through death metal flags, band tees, and other accessories that covered the store from floor to ceiling. 

For the last two decades, Black Zone, an easy-to-miss spot on First Street, has been the go-to lifestyle shop for rockeros and metalheads from Santa Ana and beyond. 

The classroom-sized black-painted storefront does not sell any physical music, but instead only sells tees and accessories like patches, pins, decorative skulls and jackets.

“We just drove from Northern California because he found this place on Instagram,” said Michelle Priante about her husband as she sifted through a shelf of heavy metal band tees. “We were coming down here to go to Disneyland.” 

When they saw the shop carried patches that could be added to their battle jackets, they decided to make Black Zone their first pit stop. 

Customers looking at a display case of patches
A family from Northern California eager to add patches to their battle jackets. Photo by Geovanni Esparza/el Don
A shelf of t-shirts of black and death metal shirts
A shelf of many iconic and underground metal band tee sold at Black Zone. Photo by Geovanni Esparza/ el Don

 

Alexis Sagastume, the store owner’s son, says people like the Priantes aren’t a rarity. With the launch of the store’s website, TikTok and Instagram, all of which are run by him, people from far away have flocked to Black Zone.  

“That’s almost regular, people come from out of state. We just shipped to Albania, Italy, Spain,” said Alexis. “It’s crazy the number of countries, cities and places we’ve touched.” 

The heavy metal-loving 24-year-old manages all visuals on the website, sets up orders, and interacts with customers day in and day out.  

Although Alexis runs daily operations, Black Zone was founded in 2003 by his mother, Norma, who still owns the store.

After emigrating from Mexico, Norma started running her own business at Golden West Swap Meet, where she sold silver jewelry from a display case. 

“I visualized and dreamed of making something where my kids would be well off,” said Norma. 

Looking for a way to bring in more income, she started selling rock en español band tees, which turned out to be a big hit among the locals. Over time, her business morphed into what it is now.

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Norma brought the rockero lifestyle to Santa Ana. 

Sagastume pointing at her cork board of photos
“I’ve had these photos hidden for years. I don’t show them much,” said Norma as she detailed who was in each photograph. Photo by Geovanni Esparza/el Don

 

From behind “Baphomet” merch banners, Norma revealed a large corkboard and pointed to all the analog photographs of Mexican rock legends that have autographed in the shop. Bands such as Leprosy, Garrobos, Luzbel, El Haragan, Lira N’ Roll, and Interpuesto, the latter now being friends to the Sagastumes. 

Hidden in one of the photos was young Alexis, who started helping out in the store when he was four.

“My dad would go to concerts with local and bigger bands and would have a banner in the back that had our store name,” said Alexis. “That’s how we got our name out there and bands started knowing us.”

Black Zone has given the metal scene the physical location they needed. 

Norma says teens enter their own world when they set foot in the store. “Everything I give is for them. So they can come in comfortably and feel included with their music. Some of the boys are a little lost and ask me for advice.”

Alexis Sagastume talking to customers
Alexis Sagastume talking to customers Michael and Angie Martinez, who have been shopping at Black Zone for 10 years. Photo by Geovanni Esparza/ el Don

 

Since Los Lunáticos first stepped into the Mexican rock scene in the late ‘50s, rock and heavy metal has always played a significant role in Mexican society and culture. 

For customers like Angie Martinez who grew up in L.A. County, the community that Black Zone has fostered is what makes the shop stand out despite its all-black exterior and skulls in the windows. 

People from all over are welcome at Black Zone whether or not their hometown has a thriving metal scene. 

“You can always shop online but it’s not the same; you talk to the owner and then the son. You kind of feel at home in a sense,” said Martinez. “The owner brings all this love from Mexico. This is the lifestyle there and it’s nice to be seen here.”

Lizeth Martinez

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