Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Succulence will continue to operate, and will be moving into the whole store over the next bunch of weeks. See the bottom of this letter for more details. When we bought Four Star, in March of 2007, we projected that the business probably had 3-5 years of life left in it. We also optimistically committed ourselves to keeping it open for as long as we could. Dashing our hopes but exceeding our expectations, we made it 5 1/2 years. But now, we must move on. For quite a while Four Star has existed to pay its employees and serve the neighborhood, but it has not been a profitable enterprise. We’ve hit other dips in the road and have made (sometimes difficult) adjustments that have kept Four Star open. We shortened our hours, we changed our staffing schedules, we offered a membership plan for customers, and we stopped paying for health insurance for our employees. That one really felt terrible. Of course, we also opened Succulence. That has added growth and new dimensions to the store and to our lives. The two businesses together have worked in amazing cooperation. But it does take a lot to run them both – one is growing while the other is shrinking, and the combination has often made us feel as though we are simultaneously running our hardest and staying in place. That has been exhausting and discouraging. It recently became clear that a change at Four Star was required, and we just don’t feel as though hiking the prices or reducing our ordering of new films or any other approach to keep Four Star afloat is likely to serve any long term goal, and maybe not any short term goal either. There is a quality of experience that we’ve offered at Four Star that we don’t want to compromise, and we can’t maintain that quality and continue to reduce expenses. We love Four Star Video and we know many, many of you do, too – you tell us all the time! That makes us so proud, and makes this decision so scary. Like so many others, we have been thinking about technology, the economy, our changing society and what it all means. The opportunity to put on your shoes and jacket, walk to Cortland, and rent a DVD was a rare privilege and a wonderful feature to our neighborhood. We are saddened and disappointed to see that go, but we are not surprised. Certain ways we live our lives are changed forever, making some wonderful things obsolete. That is not happening but has already happened. It is indeed full of a lot of loss. Change is a must, that much is clear. The goodness or badness of change is sometimes just not the point. The inevitability of change, however, carries the lessons to us: we cannot hold onto what is simply because we know it and love it; we cannot remain bitter about the inevitable, because then we are just left with bitterness; we cannot know what good will come! Let us also heed this reminder not to take the things we love and value for granted. Enjoy them while you can! Take responsibility for their survival! We do have some ability to decide what we will support, where we will compromise, and how we spend our money. More here than most places – that is a privilege we haven’t yet lost. Each of us plays a part in determining where value lies in our world. Thank you, thank you, wonderful Bernal Heights, for supporting Four Star for so long. Thank you to all of the previous owners of Four Star Video, who gave us such a gem. Thank you to the probably hundreds of people who have worked at the store over the years. And continuing thanks to you, dear customers, for coming in, hanging out, talking film, talking life, and changing and growing with us and the times. We love bringing you art and plants and things that add to your quality of life, and we are grateful for the opportunity to keep doing it. We will be selling movies in the store for a least two – and probably more like four – more weeks. Our transition plan is a work in progress, but we have a lot of movies and need to get them to loving homes. Maybe you want to own a piece of Bernal History or want to get some stocking-stuffers in advance. Stock up on some TV series you haven’t watched yet? Prepare for the collapse of the internet and global infrastructure by making sure you have entertainment stashed away in your survival bunker? Kids movies are $4, library DVDs are $5, library BluRays are $8, Criterion, foreign and documentary films are $10. New Releases are $12, and Series are sold by the season for $10 - $15. 10% discount if you buy 10 or more movies, and a 20% discount if you buy 20 or more movies. If you want more, lets talk. If you want VHS tapes you are a super hero. Also, effective immediately, store hours are 10am to 8pm. We’d love to give you store credit (at Succulence) for any unused blocks or KenFlix days if you are interested in that. Your continued support means a lot to us. We’re sorry we couldn’t keep Four Star Video open forever. With love, Ken and Amy Shelf
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Dear Good People of Bernal Heights and Beyond,
We, Amy and Ken Shelf (and our children, Huck and Trudy) became owners of Four Star Video in March of 2007 – five years ago! The previous owner, David Ayoob, had passed away in November of 2006 after also owning Four Star Video for five years. Ken had a funny epiphany one night realizing that Dave's life seemed quite romantic and lovely, and that perhaps he could step into those huge shoes and become a business owner on Cortland. “These are our working years” he said to Amy, while convincing her of his plan. Oh, we've laughed hard at that memory.
Our friends (some of you!) were very worried about this. A video store? How can that survive? What about Netflix? Redbox? Comcast? AppleTV? Hulu? Streaming of any sort? Iphone, Ipod, Ipad, I put it at 3-5 years maximum. We'd already seen so many video stores close. Meanwhile, we told them (and our parents, and ourselves), we will contemplate our options, prepare a business plan for another store. Not get caught with out pants down (well...you know what I mean).
A funny thing happened along the way, our great friend and mentor, Darcy Lee, suggested we start selling succulents, those lovely thick-leaved plants that have such a penchant for existence that they sometimes refuse to die. We hemmed. We hawed. Then we bit, set out a table in the back patio and picked up some plants.
Well, like a rice grain and a pinto bean, somehow, improbably, we formed a whole protein with video and plant. Virtual and organic. Entertainment and existence. And here we are; five years later, still renting videos and also offering classes on vertical gardening and terrarium building. And seeds for your vegetable gardens. And lighting for your romantic dinner. And freshly made jams and pickles and supplies. And handmade ceramics and necklaces and belt buckles. And art, both utilitarian and otherwise. And, of course, succulents, small and large, of all colors and types, in a state of joy, waiting to be taken home to nurture and nourish.
The video store? Like Joaquin Phoenix, still here! In September last year, we realized we didn't need to separately “own” two stores on the same footprint, so we merged the two, and now our entire operation is called Succulence. And currently, Succulence has a huge video rental library, with well over 25,000 titles, and 10-20 new titles every week. Our subscription program (cleverly called Kenflix) allows you to rent without late fees and due dates. Our educated staff helps you to pick out what you didn't even know you wanted. We still offer the opportunity to browse and touch videos with your actual hands. Yes we are constantly making changes to our layout. We must! Our responsibility is to survive. That is our intention; survival. Our plan is to be in business in Bernal Heights, whether or not we rent videos, sell plants, teach classes, or whatever. We want to be up here, at 402 Cortland, schmoozing with you, our friends, our neighbors, and those of you we have just met, offering some good honest business with care and attention. That is our plan. Thank you for supporting us.
Love and Kisses,
Ken and Amy Shelf