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By Andrea Aranda
On Sept. 23, 1998, a shiny new video store opened in what was once the busiest block of 24th Street, between Sanchez and Noe streets. Almost immediately, the brightly lit shop at 3936 24th Street became a popular meeting place for movie buffs and their families.
But on Oct. 7, 2008, two weeks after its 10th anniversary, Noe Valley Video pasted a handwritten sign on the window: "Going Out of Business." With that notice, owners Brian and Marlene Dunleavy sadly informed the neighborhood they were closing the store at the end of the month.
"It's the end of an era," said Brian with a sigh. He said the store had been overwhelmed by a Perfect Storm: a sinking economy, rising overhead costs, and stiff competition from the Internet, cable TV, and companies like Netflix.
Brian also named another culprit, the film industry itself.
"Hollywood doesn't support small rental stores," he said. He explained that the movie studios offer price breaks to chain stores like Netflix, Blockbuster, and Walmart, though not to the small neighborhood stores. That translates to an unfair advantage, he said.
Noe Valley Video had been experiencing a gradual decline in sales since June, Brian said. But this fall, he and his wife remained hopeful the business could survive. However, when the numbers came in for the month of September, they realized it was the last straw and made the tough decision to close the store.
The Long Goodbye
A week before Halloween, the owners were selling off the last of their inventory and saying goodbye to the people they'd come to know through a decade of sharing film favorites.
"Saying goodbye is the hard part," said Brian. "We've seen children grow, become teenagers, and get married. We're going to miss the great relationships and the joy and laughter."
For Marlene as well, it's been a difficult transition. "It's been emotionally devastating. I feel like I'm grieving a death.
The Dunleavys aren't the only ones grieving the loss. Since the store announced the closure, loyal customers have been coming in daily to offer best wishes and bid adieu.
Kay Noyes has been a customer since the store first opened under its original name, 21st Century Video.
"Noe Valley Video was the first stop on my walk down 24th Street," said Noyes. "Marlene was my entertainment--we had lots of laughs. I feel very sad and disappointed. I'll miss them terribly."
Noyes said she doesn't intend to join Netflix, but she is not sure where she will go.
Brian's recommendation is to "shop local! There's Video Wave [on Castro Street] and Superstar [at Castro and 18th]. Stay away from Netflix and Blockbuster," he said. "They offer no support for the community. They aren't supporting the Harvest Festival. People need to take time to support local businesses."
What lies around the bend for Brian and Marlene Dunleavy? For now, the couple are looking forward to enjoying Thanksgiving and some relaxation. They aren't sure what their next venture will be, though they say they have "a few irons in the fire. I doubt we'll open another store like this. We're innovative, bright...we'll figure something out. We'll be okay."
As for their employees, the Dunleavys say they especially regret having to let staff go. "They were the best group of employees we had," said Marlene. "It sickens us that we can no longer employ these good, knowledgeable, and friendly kids."