Video Wave Fights Against Tide of Streams

The Noe Valley fixture has struggled to pay the rent in recent years as video rental business dries up.

Photo by Kevin N. Hume

One of the last video stores in San Francisco — and the last with its own space — is fighting to hang on.

Video Wave of Noe Valley, which has called the neighborhood home since 1983, has made changes to its business model this year to try and stay open, but it’s unclear whether those changes will make a substantial difference before October, when the current lease expires.

“The lease is up on Halloween, and I have no idea what the landlord will do,” says Colin Hutton, the proprietor and co-owner of Video Wave.

Hutton added a monthly membership fee this year, emulating the monthly subscription model of services like Netflix and Hulu. The change comes in response to an even worse start to 2019 than 2018, which Hutton says was a bad year, although 2017 and 2016 were no cakewalks either.

As reported by Hoodline at the time, Video Wave started a GoFundMe campaign in 2016 to help keep the store in business as it changed locations due to increasing rent. It initially moved into its current space with a candy store, although that store has since gone out of business, leaving Video Wave to shoulder the rent alone.

Hutton has kept the GoFundMe page open, as he’s needed community support to help keep the store alive. The “Save Video Wave of Noe Valley” campaign has raised $17,615 for the store since 2016, according to the GoFundMe website.

“The GoFundMe campaign was not something I envisioned as an ongoing thing,” Hutton tells SF Weekly. The campaign has remained up since 2016 as the store has been in need of extra cash from the community on an ongoing basis.

David Pennebaker, who has made the largest individual donation on the GoFundMe page ($3,000 in 2016 and $500 in May 2018), has been a regular customer since the early 2000s and enjoys the personal, tactile experience a video store provides over Netflix.

“I really miss Blockbuster,” says Pennebaker, a real estate agent who lives in the neighborhood. “I like having someone to talk to about the movies.”

Hutton, who was a librarian before working at Video Wave full time, enjoys giving customers advice and guidance on movies.

Hutton would even welcome becoming a non-profit and repository of classic films, but cannot afford the attorney’s fees or filing fees associated with converting a commercial business into a nonprofit.

“I’d love it if a collection like this was the city’s video store,” he says.

Regulars like Pennebaker have weaved Video Wave into the fabric of their lives.

“I’d seriously hate to see [Video Wave] close,” Pennebaker says. He first came into contact with the store in the early 2000s when his then-boss lent him a movie (In the Cut, a 2003 thriller starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo) she had rented from Video Wave. When he returned it, he found there were a bushel of late fees his boss had accrued that he had to pay off. Nevertheless, he eventually became a store regular.

“I really like talking with Colin,” Pennebaker says. “Once you’re familiar with a neighborhood in San Francisco, that’s part of the beauty of it, you get acquainted with small businesses like these.”

Hutton plans on doing more community outreach in advance of his expiring lease.

“I want to put myself out there as best I can,” he says. “I love what I do and I love my community. I want to keep it going.”

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