What’s it like to be in a business that everyone assumes is doomed?
“Every day I am reminded about the precariousness of my business,” said Cristy Colcord, who has co-owned Lost Weekend Video at 1034 Valencia for 14 years.
And if she or the owners of other video stores in the Mission District — Fayes, Vimy Electronics and the Mission Adult Superstore — forget, there are plenty of signs to remind them: faded ones like Hollywood Video at Van Ness and Cesar Chavez streets, for example, or at the old location of US Video at 2969 Mission Street, which is now the offices of the ANSWER coalition. There’s also the old Blockbuster sign, which dominated the view south of Cesar Chavez until the outlet closed its doors in 2009.
Soon another is likely to join them — the family-operated World Pioneer Video at 2830 24th Street. After 21 years of work, and despite owning the building, they will probably close the store at the end of this year, partner and co-owner Evelyn Fong said. They would then rent the space to someone else.
Five years ago they opened a post office “to help with the video … it’s not working either,” Fong said. “We have been suffering for the past three years, and we will not survive. Sadly.”
Other owners recognize the odds are set against them. Bits of good news, such as Netflix recently alienating its customers, might send some business their way, but any change is unlikely to be enough.
“Overall, it won’t mean much to us,” said Colcord from Lost Weekend Video.
It doesn’t help that changes in the real estate market have made Lost Weekend’s location more attractive to prospective buyers. “The landlady wants to sell the building so she can retire, and we will be screwed,” said Colcord, who added that the business cannot afford higher rent. Although nothing is decided, and Colcord and her colleagues believe that she will wait for the economy to get better, a sale would probably mean that the store would close.
In the meantime, the shop’s owners are fitting out the basement to make way for more film screenings. The first will be in a few weeks, Colcord said. Capacity and price have yet to be decided, but they want it to be intimate and affordable.
Lost Weekend already hosts concerts and free screenings on its ground floor — movies that you can’t get through Netflix, such as “Play It Again, Sam” and “Murder, My Sweet.”
“It’s cool, but it doesn’t give money,” Colcord said. And they need it. “Now it’s worse than when we first opened, in 1997. We pay the bills, but that’s all.”
Customer service is still their trump card.
“You don’t go to a furniture store and chat, because you don’t go every day, but with entertainment you go and you get enthusiastic about it,” she said.
She still remembers the boom years of 2007 and 2008. Then the recession and the development of streaming technology intervened.
“I understand times change,” Colcord said. “We may be obsolete and it may be sad for me or the neighborhood, but one day everything will be on streaming. A new generation won’t have seen DVDs, and they won’t care. But I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Neither does Matthew Troy, co-owner of Fayes, although after more than 10 years in business, the coffee and pastries they also sell are now the items that keep the video store open. Movie rentals, he said, bring in half what they did three years ago.
“We are not closing tomorrow, but we may not [be] here in 10 years,” said Troy, sitting in the small store on 18th Street among movies organized under carefully painted genre signs. Rentals have dropped to one-fifth of the store’s income, from two-thirds.
Troy keeps recommending movies to his customers. From behind the counter, he greets visitors and exchanges a few words with each of them. They know his name, and he knows theirs. And he doesn’t want it to change.
That is the reason he and his partner want to stay, adding other services such as food, mailing services — even babysitting. “I think it’s about being creative,” he said. “Movies don’t seem like a very trustworthy thing for the future.”
While Lost Weekend and Fayes continue to reinvent ways to make money in a landscape where streaming video is very much the future, others are counting on specific groups of customers to help keep their doors open.
John Inguyen, who has been renting out videos for 26 years, said that smaller communities are the ones that keep coming to Vimy Electronics. Some 70 percent of his customers are Latinos, who “may have less access to the Internet” — and the others are a mixed bunch of African Americans, Asians and people from other communities.
However, rentals and sales have been decreasing in the last few years, and Inguyen believes it’s “too late to introduce different things.” His only hope is that the economy will get better. “And service,” he added. “People like that.”
Finding a niche seems to be the answer to the Mission’s other survival story — the Mission Adult Superstore at 2086 Mission Street.
Although its business is down by half, viewers continue to rent on average around 200 or 300 movies a week. “I’m not sure about the reason, but I think sometimes customers don’t want to wait for shipping or they don’t want to leave their information on the Internet,” said Marco Antonio Cruz, who works there.
Arcade and preview rooms are the most important part of the business, but movies represent almost 40 percent of their income, he said. At least for now.