It’s become a common San Francisco cry: If you want your beloved business to stay in the city, you need to support it. Several Mission businesses have tried new ways to rally their customers and pivot their operations, but in a changing retail environment, it’s tough going.
Viracocha hosted a fundraiser to help the vintage store transform into a properly licensed event space. Before being pushed out of its original location on 16th Street, Adobe Books successfully rallied its fans and raised more than $61,000 via Indiegogo to re-imagine itself as an arts cooperative. Now, Lost Weekend Video is the latest neighborhood institution to ask its customers if they still want them around. If the answer is yes, then they are encouraging people to patronize them, or risk losing them as early as next May when their lease expires.
“If people are not going to come that’s fine,” said Christy Colcord, one of the owners of Lost Weekend Video. “We just want them to know the situation. I just want it to be a choice.” The situation for Lost Weekend is dire. According to its management, business has dropped 60 percent in the last four years. Lost Weekend’s staff says it can’t compete with Netflix and other legal and illegal video-streaming services.
But the video store, which has been operating on 1034 Valencia Street since 1997, does get its fair share of love from the neighborhood. To combat falling revenues and expand beyond video rentals, they opened the Cinecave, a 25-person, micro-theater downstairs from the video store. They asked for community support by way of Kickstarter in 2012. The campaign asked for just $4,000 to create the Cinecave, but nearly 200 backers raised more than $9,000. Operating the Cinecave kept them in business by bringing people to screenings almost every night of the week. The tiny venue was often packed at events such as the screening of the “Breaking Bad” finale, live comedy nights, and, most recently, World Cup games.
However, Lost Weekend’s new life as a community event space appears not to be enough. Colcord says she’s seen a 30 percent decline in revenue over the last few months. So if a successful fundraiser and new event space can’t keep Lost Weekend open, what can a legacy business in the Mission District do? Lost Weekend is looking for a partnership—specifically, someone to share their storefront. Colcord says that they found one, though she wouldn’t say which business and when the move-in is likely to occur.
Beloved institutions such as Lost Weekend Video know that nostalgia is not enough to keep a business running. And that means shifting their business models in hopes of weathering yet another disruptive storm. After transforming into a cooperatively-run arts space and moving to a new location on 24th Street, Adobe Books appears to have landed on its feet from a tumultuous year.
On a recent evening outside of their current location, a huge crowd of young literati spilled onto the sidewalk. Its members say the space is in the red. Despite the new digs and seeming success, its members and co-owners know the struggle is not yet over. “We are not sitting on our past laurels,” said John Fellman, a cooperative member and volunteer at the book store. “We have to change.”
Beyond shifting to a cooperatively-run community model, Adobe is hosting art events and also applying for grants—they were awarded $5,850 from Rainbow Grocery, granted to emerging co-operatives. “We’re here,” says Chris Rolles, one of only two full-time Adobe employees. “The goal is to stay here as long as we can and be part of this community.”
For businesses that are up against the wall, the atmosphere at Adobe Books and Lost Weekend Video is not exactly that of a pity party, but rather a pragmatic strategy meeting. The operators are realistic about the situation and want to give customers the chance to join them in spaces where they said neighbors get to interact with one another.
Making a viable event space turned out not to be an option for Lost Weekend. The layout of their space would not allow them to get the necessary permits, as they don’t have the required number of exits. Additionally, to be a successful venue they needed to sell one business-saving substance: alcohol. To get a liquor license, Lost Weekend would have to go through an extensive process. Such an effort would also require an exemption, as the Mission is a special use district that restricts the issuing of new liquor licenses in the neighborhood—though exemptions have been made.
Mission Bowling Club, The Roxie Theater and Urban Putt all received exemptions to be able to serve alcohol at their venues. Steve Fox of Urban Putt, for example, drafted three different business plans until eventually settling on opening a full service restaurant on the top floor that would allow it to serve liquor. “That was the only way to make it profitable,” he said. “Technology changes, but someone with the martini makes it through the ages,” said Phill Lesser, a longtime business consultant in the Mission. He added that a successful business “has something that is desirable, that has profit margins.”
Lost Weekend’s staff had hoped the Cinecave could create opportunities for new revenue and new customer interaction, but now they’re relying on whatever the potential partnership brings. Colcord, who describes herself as an ardent film lover, still hopes the space can be where people hang out and enjoy film. “I am not saying change how you watch films,” she said. “But keep us in mind.”