When the economy soured last year, Dave Kozlowski still felt optimistic about the prospects for his business, Liberty Street Video. After buying the store in 2007 and investing in new inventory, sales were growing 10-15% each month, and he had finally stopped losing money.
But in January, he says business took a turn for the worse. Since then, sales at the East Liberty store have dropped around 5-8% each month, with no sign of improving. So with his lease up for renewal at the end of the year, Kozlowski has decided to close the last independent video store in Ann Arbor.
Sunday will be the last day of the store’s regular hours. It will be closed on Monday and Tuesday, then reopen on Wednesday with truncated hours: from 2-8 p.m. weekdays, and noon-8 p.m. on weekends. The goal is to sell off all inventory, including DVDs for $5 and $2 for VHS tapes. Kozlowski says he’s hoping to recoup some of his roughly $200,000 investment and pay down $40,000 in debt, including the $10,000 in back rent he owes the landlord, Ali Amiri.
“It’s been fun,” Kozlowski told The Chronicle. “I love it. I love the town.”
Liberty Street Video has been hanging on despite a dramatic shift in the industry. In fact, Kozlowski says the economy might have just expedited what was already inevitable. Netflix, the mail-order movie rental company, has hurt bricks-and-mortar businesses, as has its more recent rival, redbox. Amazon.com is offering an on-demand service that lets you download movies to watch on your computer. And in September, news emerged that YouTube – owned by Google – plans to offer its own video-on-demand service.
Even large chains have suffered – just last month, Blockbuster announced plans to close nearly 1,000 stores nationwide by the end of 2010, as it struggles to compete. Both Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have several stores in the Ann Arbor area, but local independents, like Campus Video and Panorama Video, have closed.
Another competitor is the Ann Arbor District Library, which has an extensive collection of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, free to anyone with a library card. Kozlowski hopes the library might be interested in buying some of his collection, including some of the rarer titles.
Liberty Street Video has been known for its eclectic collection. The store’s international section carries titles from 19 countries, and they have a wide selection of genres, including gay/lesbian, cult, silent movie, documentary and adult. Because of its inventory, students at the University of Michigan are frequent customers to rent movies for the courses they’re taking. Some film instructors give the store their syllabi, and Kozlowski says he makes sure they have several copies of each movie on hand.
But business from the university wasn’t enough to keep the store afloat. Kozlowski said he tried different promotional efforts, like $1 rentals and 2-for-1 deals, but there just wasn’t enough foot traffic for rentals anymore from the general public. He’s been subsidizing the business trying to make it through, and says that his landlord, Ali Amiri – who owns the Persian House of Imports at 325 E. Liberty – has been very patient and supportive.
Kozlowski told his five part-time employees about his decision last week. He’s uncertain about what he’ll do next, but says he plans to stay here – he lives in Howell.
Before buying the store from Laura Abraham, Kozlowski worked in the trucking industry. He was born and raised in this area, but had been living in Tennessee until returning here to take care of his elderly mother, who has since died.
When he bought the business, he saw it as an opportunity, one that could give him some flexibility to take care of his mother, who moved in with Kozlowski and his wife. Though the store was struggling when he bought it, back then he believed he could make it work – and for a while, he did: “I thought we’d make it.”
Liberty Street Video is located at 119 E. Liberty St., near the corner of Liberty and Fourth Avenue. Its phone number is 734-213-1944.