It’s hot, it’s Monday afternoon, and a good number of Mission residents are inside Lost Weekend Video trolling for movies. On one aisle, a father and his young son, walk hand in hand, looking for a family-friendly movie to pass the afternoon. Nearby, a gay couple—one in jeans and a polo, the other in a T-shirt and short shorts—glance at the selection of queer classics.
“I know we’ve already seen a lot of these,” the sneakered shorts-wearer says to the other, “but it’s always fun just to look.”
The long-haired twenty-something male studying the section dedicated to well respected directors, appears to agree. So does the teenage Latina girl sucking on a smoothie straw as she peruses the new releases. They’re joined by a few others who have spilled in from Ritual Roasters, the coffee shop next door, looking for a flick to accompany their afternoon caffeine fix.
It’s a scene that has long been an American staple: representatives from all the subcultures that comprise a neighborhood converging at the local video store.
And, oddly, despite the Mission’s young and tech-savvy crowd that would seem naturals for Netflix, they still cue up at Lost Weekend on Valencia Street.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s just a place to rent movies,” says Jen, who’s only browsing, killing time before meeting friends at a nearby bar. “It’s fun to just spend a few minutes looking around. You might see a movie you’ve never heard of before and pick it up—something that you might not find anywhere else.”
Movie rental sales declined 5.7 percent in 2008, and with services like Netflix increasing their share of consumers, rental stores have been reeling. National rental giant Blockbuster is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and across the country, independent stores are closing shop. But while Lost Weekend is weathering the current recession, its owners feel good about the store’s chances moving forward.
“I think there will always be room for a store like ours,” Christy Colcord, one of the store’s three co-owners, says in a Monday-night interview. “We offer something that other stores can’t offer.”
What they offer is the atmosphere of a store that’s serious about its movies. Lost Weekend has a wide selection, with a section devoted entirely to legendary directors, a plethora of cult classics and three racks of documentary titles. Its staff of former musicians and film students contributes to its reputation as one of Valencia’s hipster staples, and a stand-up “Defender” arcade game near the entrance contributes to the indie aesthetic.
And the selection doesn’t disappoint. Whether you’re looking for a mindless new comedy (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) or a groundbreaking documentary (Taxi to the Dark Side), you can check out the small but diverse selection of new releases. But it’s the more obscure titles that give the store its flair. There is a smattering of foreign films, divided by countries and regions that range from Japan to Germany to the Middle East. The three racks of documentaries stand across from a small section of cult porn, with titles like The Ozporns and Corpse Grinders grabbing browsers’ attentions.
“The selection is much hipper than at mainstream rental places,” says Adam Zenko, a 36-year-old paralegal who gets most of his movies from the public library but goes to Lost Weekend when looking for certain titles. “The employees are incredibly knowledgeable and can give great recommendations, and some movies are arranged by director as they should be.”
The knowledge of the store’s staff has drawn glowing comments on Yelp, but some reviewers have complained about the attitude of the store’s clerks, throwing around phrases like “indie-tude” and “hipster elitist complex.”
“Because the people who work here have been in bands or in film school, and because it’s here on Valencia Street, I think people come in here with a certain expectation,” says Colcord. “When people expect something, that’s what they take away from their experience.”
Yelpers have complained about feeling judged for their selections when renting a mainstream blockbuster or a popular television show like Sex and the City,” but co-owner Dave Hawkins says patrons need not worry.
“We all like a lot of crappy movies,” Hawkins says with a laugh. “Believe me, we’re not judging you.”
Near the cash register stands a rack of staff picks, featuring selections that range from Goodfellas to The Vagina Monologues, with plugs for Rosemary’s Baby, Anchorman and kid-friendly flick Hoot thrown in for good measure. The movie posters that hang on the walls are similarly diverse. Blade Runner hangs next to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with Animal House and Apocalypse Now claiming space on other walls.
Lost Weekend predates the Valencia corridor’s transformation into one of San Francisco’s cultural hotbeds, and the store may have contributed to the evolution of the neighborhood.
“I think we’ve had an impact on the way the street has developed in some ways,” Hawkins says. “Stores that are successful increase foot traffic and build off of one another.”
The store has provided a lift not only economically, but also culturally.
“It affects the image of the street,” says Colcord. “Stores like ours can be part of a draw to the neighborhood.”
Hawkins says the store’s clientele can be traced alongside the shifting tides of the western Mission. At first, most patrons were young. During the dot-com boom, older, wealthier individuals moved into the neighborhood. Now the store has begun to skew young once more as the influx of twentysomething transplants has continued.
Colcord points to nearby Aquarius Records as another establishment that has helped shape Valencia Street. Now, both stores are faced with the prospect of trying to endure in the face of industry-wide struggles that show no signs of slowing.
Hawkins and Colcord are well aware of the threat Netflix poses. But as independent stores compete with national chains over who will play second fiddle to the mail-order giant, they see their indie cred going a long way.
“There’s not much benefit to going to Blockbuster,” Colcord says. “There’s not much depth. Because of that, they can’t compete with Netflix.”
Hawkins adds, “We give people something more than the chains. We give them a store that’s still just a fun place to be.”