Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Ojai Video Closure Adds To Vacancies

Jonie Pearson took advantage of Monday’s clearance sale at Ojai Video to stock up on videos.

By Nao Braverman
As soon as Ojai Video has sold all of its merchandise, the approximately 2,300-square-foot space will be added to the list of vacancies on Matilija Street in the Arcade Plaza District.
The privately owned video store, one of the few long-standing Arcade Plaza fixtures among many fleeting tourist shops, was one of the few downtown businesses that catered to both visitors and locals. It maintained the genial qualities of a small town establishment, with friendly service and knowledgeable employees, some who had worked there for more than 20 years. When the video rental business was in full swing, a trip to Ojai Video on the weekend likely meant a chance meeting with friends or acquaintances.
But as Netflix and other online DVD rentals came into the picture, frequenters dwindled, and the establishment, once crowded on weekends, began looking more and more desolate.
Since Monday, the store has been busier than it was during its most profitable years, with lines out the door during lunch hour, for the going-out-of-business sale.
They will continue to lease the place until everything is sold, said the assistant manager, Nancy Hunter-Bowles.
Despite recent complaints about the cost of commercial rentals, the video store’s failure had nothing to do with their landlord, Hunter-Bowles confirmed. The circulating rumor that Santa Barbara-based property owner, Ernest Borgaro, had raised the rent, was completely unfounded, she said.
In fact, the last time he had raised their rent was three years ago. Borgaro added that he had even lowered the rent by $200 about two years ago when the business owner began to see hard times.
“We really wanted them to stay there,” said Borgaro, who purchased the property, with the video store in it, and continued to lease it to the same tenants for 20 years.
In April he changed the lease to a month-to-month contract while Ojai Video put the business up for sale, but there were no offers, according to Hunter-Bowles.
“We have a really great landlord,” she said. She cites Netflix and internet downloads as the primary reason the business has failed. With rent just under $4,000 a month, she said, and a number of longtime employees who were treated well and got regular raises, the overhead was too high to handle the dwindling demand.
Needless to say, the market is privately owned video stores, it has not hurt business at Plaza Video store at the “Y,” according to Christina Ha, whose husband owns the establishment. The owner, Michael Ha, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. An employee said that they had not seen any change in business during the year that she had worked there and that the store had a slew of faithful regulars. The store, Monday evening, was entirely empty nonetheless, when an Ojai Valley News reporter stopped by.
But if it is not to be a video store, what will become of the prominent structure in the Arcade Plaza which will soon lose its 20-year tenant. Borgaro says he hasn’t found a business to fill that lot, or the 1,780-square-foot space above the video store which has been vacant since it was last leased to Lynda.com.
With the video store gone, there will be about 12,859 square feet of vacant space in the Arcade Plaza District’s approximately 140,204 feet.
The commercial buildings bordered by Ojai Avenue, Matilija Street, Signal Street and Montgomery Street are looking more sparse. A handful of businesses that have folded or moved to a different location, including the Iron Pan Bistro, Lynda.com, Curves, Ojai Sports, an office next to Cornerstone Architects, the sandwich shop next to Java & Joe’s, and soon Ojai Video, have yet to be filled. While some building owners, including Ernie Salomon, owner of the Matilija Plaza group, say they have tenants lined up, the Matilija side of the Arcade Plaza is still looking bleak.
But it’s not only the facade that has taken a hit, the city is already seeing a drop in sales tax, according to city manager Jere Kersnar, and long-term vacancies certainly won’t help alleviate the problem.
A joint marketing committee, made up of members of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, Kersnar, Councilwoman Rae Hanstad and Mayor Sue Horgan, was recently formed to address the issue. Horgan said that there was nothing specific to report at this time, but she expects they will have a more concrete plan after a meeting scheduled for June 11.
“I am pleased with the discussions we have had as a group so far and I am looking forward to a plan to address these issues,” she said.
Hanstad said that while the city should do their part, local residents can also make a difference by supporting local establishments.
“Ojai Video served as a film library for our community and I am sorry to see it close,” she said. “But while the city needs to figure out what it can do help support our local businesses, the citizens need to pay attention to local trends, and shop local whenever possible.”


Anonymous said...

This truly saddens me. Where else can we find unusual movies to fit our mood on the day we want them. I only wish I knew it was for sale as maybe we could have found a way to save it.

Pat McPherson

Anonymous said...

Farewell, Sue. Farewell, Nancy. You were part of my life for so long that you were like family. I'm sure that there are many other people in Ojai who can say the same thing.

Best wishes to both of you, and thanks for 20 years of trust, friendly service, and understanding my tastes.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Nao! The facts are finally out there about why Sue decided to close. I have spent more than a little time at my Shoppe refuting the nasty rumors about Mr. Borgaro. Those who started the rumors should be ashamed of themselves.

Best of luck to Sue in whatever new ventures she launches. And Nancy, enjoy spending some time with that cat of yours!

B Dawson

Anonymous said...


I heard the story about the reasons for Ojai Video closing from an employee of Ojai Video. I was outraged. I believed what I heard, and considering the source, why should I have believed otherwise? I mentioned what I had heard to 3 other people. I'm sure I contributed to the rumor, even if I wasn't the ultimate source. When I found out from Nancy that the real story was something entirely different from what I had originally been told, I told 2 of the 3 people I'd originally talked to what I'd found out. I have yet to talk to the 3rd person, but I will when I find her.

I am ashamed that I spread a story that wasn't true, but I have a feeling that I'm probably not the only one. Nonetheless, I am more than a little chagrined.

Anonymous said...

At $4,000 a month, I don't think Mr. Borgaro needed to raise the rent for rent to drive the business under. $4,000 a month rent for a video store in a town of 8,000 is not sustainable. Regardless of Netflix.

I'd say the "rumor" is true, another business killed by high rent. Not to disparage the landlord, who I am sure is a fine person. But if we want a standalone video store, try $1,200 a month max for rent?

Just do the math. At $3/video, its 100 videos a day every single day to gross $9,000/month. $4,000 for rent, $5,000 for 2 employees, electricity, phones, taxes, stock...

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:25...It is entirely understandable that you thought you had the scoop if your info came from an employee. It speaks highly of your character that you sought to rectify the situation as soon as you were better informed. I applaud you for that! If I seemed harsh, it is because Mr. Borgaro was the landlord from heaven for the 6 years that I was his tenant and I was extremely upset to have him so disrespected.

Anon 10:45...The Manager of Ojai Video clearly states that the rent alone was not to blame, yet you emphatically state that it was. Unless you are their bookkeeper, I think I'll believe what those with direct knowledge have to say! I have no way of knowing if you have any business experience, perhaps you do. But I can tell you there are plenty of non-business owners who have some pretty funny ideas about costs, landlords and why businesses close.

At your suggested $1200/month, the rent would be $0.53/sq foot! I doubt that any street-level commercial space with the visibility and foot traffic of Matilija Street would go for that in all of Ventura County.

My rent next door was around $1.30/sq. foot. I was in no danger of being run out of business by it. Mr. Borgaro had no trouble renting the space when I moved.

As the news story points out, dwindling customers and overhead (not just the rent) were the fatal combination. Banning chain stores in downtown Ojai didn't help Ojai Video. 'Twas the internet and Netflix what brought them to an untimely end.

Sue Horgan is correct. If locals want to keep stores in Ojai, they must commit to shopping locally on a regular basis. Occasional purchases will not sustain our local businesses. The less locals shop here, the less merchandise will be available for them in Ojai.

Those of us blessed with loyal local customers celebrate them every day! Thank you to all who support Ojai businesses and thank you for giving Ojai Video your support these 20 plus years.

B Dawson

Anonymous said...

I used to be able to visit my former hometown, use my mothers Ojai home phone number to rent movies from Ojai Video, no questions asked. That kind of treatment is something that you cannot put a dollar amount and is/was indicative of the Ojai vibe. I am saddened that Ojai vibe is being washed away from the Arcade area, for whatever reason. And as stated in the article, Ojai video was a place that I would run into old acquaintances when in town. The Frostie and now Ojai Video? That just sux sux sux. Please Ojai-ites keep places like Ruebens and Java and Joes and the Hub, Rains etc.. going by shopping local, I know I do when I am in my former hometown. I wonder if I ever do move back to Ojai would there be ANY of the cool stores and things that I have such fond memories of left. Is it progress or just the mutation of Ojai into another nondescript strip mall community?

Kenley Neufeld said...

A true tragedy for Ojai. It is because of Ojai Video that I don't subscribe to Netflix (even after a trial).

Our nation's focus on war and our strong appetite for cheap goods (including videos!) have ultimately hurt our economy (not to mention the environment). I suspect this trend will not change before it gets worse. It seems that we need to find a way to build and support a local economy that is sustainable.

Anonymous said...

It seems that we need to find a way to build and support a local economy that is sustainable.

How are we going to do that? Better, how are we going to do that in a way that doesn't involve making yet one more law or ramming anything at all down anyone's throat?

People are either going to shop locally, or they aren't. They're either going to realize the wisdom of supporting local businesses, or they aren't. Gas prices will probably serve to keep more than a few folks from driving all the way to Ventura just to get a new oven mitt and a latte, but the only real way to increase local shopping that won't spur a "screw you" kind of backlash amongst people who are tired of constantly being told what to do and how to think is to actually make shopping in Ojai seem more desirable, and to then prove every single day that it really is more desirable. How is this going to be accomplished without vilifying and ridiculing anyone? How is this going to be accomplished without creating yet another dark, divisive, and evil celebration of internecine hatred?

Anonymous said...

"...how are we going to do that in a way that doesn't involve making yet one more law or ramming anything at all down anyone's throat?"

We do it by living the example rather than trying to legislate the answer. We do it one person at a time. The emphasis is on WE. Reliance on laws is false hope. It restricts the possibilities by passing laws that will ultimately be found damaging to the very thing they were to protect. "That government is best which governs least of all" H.D. Thoreau.

Here are some first steps to consider:

1) Businesses in Ojai should start asking what locals are looking for in products and services. How could you modify your business plan to accommodate some those needs? Example: my customers asked for later hours, I complied. I now have more sales between 4pm and 7pm than I do between 11am and 4pm. I listened, they started shopping.

2) Locals should take a look at their expectations when it comes to how much they pay for an item. Our perceptions of lower prices may be wrong.
Example: I routinely price shop PetSmart/Petco. On the same items, the cost difference is not worth the gas to leave town. Noah's is acutally cheaper on some items.

HOWEVER, businesses owners cannot rely on the gas issue to keep folks local. Many locals are in Ventura on a regular basis anyway. Ojai businesses need to take a good look at the level of customer service they offer and do it better than the big box stores. This is what sets us apart!

Want to express what you think Ojai needs in the way of goods and services? Go to
makeojaibetter.com and take Steve's survey. Actually, this is the very thing that City Manager Jere Kersnar proposed doing when he was first hired a few years ago and it fell by the wayside during the budget crunch. I think it is a reasonable place to start.

B Dawson

Kenley Neufeld said...

Though not a fit for everyone, and perhaps a bit extreme, the eat local campaign serves to highlight a direction and more importantly an awareness. Check it out at http://www.eatlocaloneyear.com and participate at a comfortable level for yourself.

Anonymous said...

Though not a fit for everyone, and perhaps a bit extreme, the eat local campaign serves to highlight a direction and more importantly an awareness.

Is that all that can be done? You said: "It seems that we need to find a way to build and support a local economy that is sustainable."

We already have a local economy that is sustainable. It has already been built. It just needs to be sustained by the support of the locals, as it has been for over 130 years. What else needs to be done?

Anonymous said...

The local economy is NOT the same as is was 130 or even 30 years ago. While tourism has always been an important aspect of the valley's economy, the nature of that tourism has changed quite a bit, and the prevalence of locals-oriented businesses has as well. I remember when there were three shoe stores in town, a Korbs Trading post where I could buy boots and jeans, several clothing stores that carried a variety of styles and price-ranges, the bowling alley, and a miniature golf course. Theater, dance, music, 4-H, and scouting all enjoyed active participation at least equalling and in some cases exceeding what can be found today. The Ojai Valley Athletic club offered inexpensive pool memberships before they had the fitness facilities. Teenagers who had horses rode them through town and up on the trails. I am eager to support local businesses, and do whenever I find one that sells something that I want. I rarely shop in Ojai for clothing, as I cannot afford what I find. I frequently shop at Wachters and Mountain Meadows Nursery, where the service and selection have always been good, and prices reasonable. My family enjoyed Ojai Video (we could always find something good) and Ojai Pet Store, and will miss both.

Becky B

Anonymous said...

You're right, Becky B. It was better 30, 20, even 10 years ago. That said, I'd still rather repair and restore what we have rather than continue down the road to becoming Montecito with tourists.

I'd rather see us work a little harder to please the people who live here rather than the people who don't live here. I'd rather take a little bit better care of people who spend money here every day before I started bending over backwards for possible investors from some other town, county, or state.

I'd like to see us grow more of our own food right here in the Valley. I'd like to see us become responsible for our own trash instead of shipping it off to someone else's backyard. I wish that the City and School District were required to give first preference to responsible local contractors rather than be forced to accept the lowest bid on any project. I wish that there were a local agency that was dedicated to helping people defray the costs of installing viable solar and photovoltaic arrays. I wish that Ojai Sanitary District were working to reclaim and use the methane they're capable of producing. I wish that someone would open up at least one "locally grown" food store that was open at least 5 days a week and that sold affordable fresh produce, eggs, cheese, juices, etc.

I'm for this kind of sustainability, but I'm not interested in the kind that I'm supposed to accept without knowing the details beforehand. A pig in a poke is not sustainability, and it never has been, and it never will be.

Anonymous said...

One other thing: I'd like to see Steve Bennett start work on a "Right to Farm" ordinance for the Ojai Valley, if not for all of Ventura County. Such ordinances now exist in other agricultural states, primarily in the Midwest, and they protect farmers against the kinds of people who move in right next door to a farm and then start complaining that they can smell manure, or that they can hear tractors, or that the farming operation stirs up dust, or that the wind machines are noisy on freezing winter nights, or about any of the other things that happen on agricultural land.

If you want sustainability, then you need to commit to protecting the practices and industries that make it happen.

James Hatch said...

Let's face it, tourists don't rent videos. In fact, tourists don't do much except clog the streets on the weekends.

The reason Ojai Video went out of business is because families that once lived here have left and people feel safer and more comfortable renting from a chain store like Blockbuster. It's mindboggling the perceived security people feel with chains.

"New Vision" and others like them have had this delirious view of Ojai as being a sort of mecca. They've heard Ojai being called Shangri la so many times that they accept it as fact. Somehow it isn't enough to be blessed to live here, to raise families here, go to school here, bowl here, and so on. They instead need, out of social insecurities and desperation, it to be viewed by outsiders as an oasis to disguise the fact that they live in a hick town far removed from L.A.

What's in the former Korb's Trading Post? An art gallery. What occupies the former site of Western Auto? A coffee shop. See any trend developing? The shift from a locally sustainable economy to one dependent on tourism has been going on for years to the point now that Ojai of thirty years ago is unrecognizable compared to the one today.

Anonymous said...

Why, I wonder did all of those stores mentioned close? Perhaps, as does happen, the owners retired without any children who were interested in the family business. Perhaps the owners no longer had community support. Perhaps keeping a business open became simply too much work. I don't the answers.

I do know that you can't have 130 years ago back, or 30 years ago or even 10 years ago. Change is at the very heart of human nature. Tastes change, fads come and go, town demographics change. We must work with what we have.

Complaints about tourists clogging the roads are unfounded. Several traffic studies have shown that peak traffic is from residents commuting, running errands or driving kids to school. In other words, locals going about their daily routines. Certainly visitors contribute, especially during special events, but I find that no less annoying than local events that close streets completely.

Wish lists are fine, but action is needed. What is each of us prepared to do? If you wish for local produce, why not put in a garden yourself? Initiate a conversation with Steve Bennett about protecting agriculture. Isn't the Green Coalition addressing this?

Ojai Video closing is sad, but it has sparked a wonderfully civil conversation about what was and what could be.

B Dawson

Anonymous said...

Ojai Video closing is sad, but it has sparked a wonderfully civil conversation about what was and what could be.

No, actually, it appears to have sparked yet another thread where people criticize, discount, and question the words, motives, reasoning, and actions of others and take a negative stance on just about everything that anyone else says without actually offering any real solutions of their own.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with anonymous 8:51. Several ideas have been put forth here, which could be expanded upon. We have started to compost green kitchen waste at the high school, and will try to expand that to all district sites, and, with a little luck and a lot of work and support, to the community at large. Rio Gozo farm and the McGrath family farm offer CSA memberships, which supports farmers and allows residents a reliable source of locally grown, in-season produce. Perhaps a community organization could look into applying for some grant money for a pilot solar initiative. Loosely organized family days at the park? Many groups now offer guided hikes into the Los Padres. We really do have options here, but it is easy to get sidetracked by the disappointments.

Becky B

Kathy Avakian said...

As a former employee, I can say that Sue Gunen is a beautiful person and a generous person. She truly cared about the customers and her employees. She was kind to everyone and her aftercare when I quit blew me away. Thank you Sue and may new vistas open up for you!
Kathy Avakian

Anonymous said...

Not only will I miss Ojai Video and its knowledgeable and cheerful staff but my dog, Annabel, is going to be despondent. She drags me in there everytime we're within a block to get treats.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for serving the community so well. Good luck to everyone of you.

sue gunen said...

It is very gratifying to read complimentary comments from many ojai residents, customers, and past co-workers about myself and Ojai video.
It is sad that we have to close the store and leave behind many customers with whom we became very good friends.
I want to thank all of our past and present loyal customers and co-workers for making Ojai Video a sucess story.
I will miss you all!!
Sue Gunen

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that no one has mentioned the new building at the corner of Canada St and Ojai Ave now houses businesses which have moved there from Arcade Plaza and other, older buildings on Ojai Ave which now sit empty. The impact on the landlords who own these buildings will be greatly impacted by losing their tenants to the behemoth on the corner.
Didn't he Ojai Planning Commission and city council see this coming when they voted to approve the project? It seriously smacks of "money talks" in this town (as do the condos on S Montgomery St).
The Arcade Plaza had much more foot traffic than the new building will ever have. I anticipate businesses folding after having moved over there. In fact, one must hunt in order to find Noah's Apothecary, whereas it was highly visible to Arcade Plaza patrons.
With the elimination of the Ojai Frostie, our school kids have nowhere to gather after school-- another classic case of our elected (and appointed) officials stabbing our town in the foot.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that no one has mentioned the new building at the corner of Canada St and Ojai Ave now houses businesses which have moved there from Arcade Plaza and other, older buildings on Ojai Ave which now sit empty.

B Dawson answered this false accusation, elsewhere, and it is fitting here:
No new businesses in Polito's place?

Let's see, Zack's jewelry, Santa Fe Trading Company, the cell phone store, Body Essentials, Mrs. Tipps haircuts for kids and soon, Blanche Street coffee & tea, Hartman Mortgage moved in from Meiner's Oaks. That's 50% of the spaces occupied by never before seen in Ojai businesses.

The local businesses who moved in left all the empty store fronts?

Few of the empty store fronts can be attributed to the local businesses who moved. Noah's old space-rented, Troop Reality's old space - rented. Jim and Rob's old space, although still vacant is taken. Ojai Business Center's old space - rented. Curves old location is the only unspoken for space.

In addition, the nostalgia for a fully-licensed hamburger stand is touching, but misplaced. That block was an eyesore, the Frostie was the only business, and the reason kids went there was due in part to the dealer in the blue LTD parked behind. Kids can still go to Jim & Rob's and get a great burger for small money and hang out all they want.

Billy & said...

I am truly saddened the store has closed - from your humble beginnings in Camarillo and to the success of the Ojai Store. I miss you and wish you all the best of luck.

Love always,

Billy Lewis

Kathy said...

I worked in this store when it opened, or soon after. Sue this is Kathy Maximo, I would love to find you and say hi. If you see this again, or anyone I knew back then while living in Ojai...please do contact me.