Customers who had credit at Videots, the DVD store on College that closed in February, should be getting their DVD refunds within the next two weeks.
John Huffman, the owner of the store, said Thursday that computer issues delayed processing of claims, but that the computer is fixed and the movies will be going out shortly.
“Everybody will get their DVDs in the next two weeks,” said Huffman.
When Videots closed in February, it asked customers to mail in a form to exchange their credit for DVDs. When a few months passed and no one got their DVDs, former customers started to complain. They accused Huffman of acting in bad faith by encouraging customers to buy credits even though he may have known the store was financially unstable.
And when news got out that the Rockridge Library in Oakland would acquire about 3,000 of Videots’ DVDs, former customers got even more upset.
“We had a prepaid account at Videots and renewed it several days before the store abruptly closed,” Zachary Williams Jr. emailed Berkeleyside. “We paid around $30+ for the renewal and only rented one movie…so we are owed almost thirty dollars. We are very upset because we added credit to our account and the staff and owner did not have the decency to inform anyone that the store was closing.”
Huffman said he regrets the delay, but it was caused by circumstances, not a desire to short-change customers. In addition to a computer malfunction, Huffman is very ill. He has an autoimmune disease and is in constant pain. He frequently must go to the hospital, he said.
“My health is an issue,” said Huffman.
Huffman opened Videots in 1997 and watched business decline precipitously in late 2008 and 2009 as Netflix and the bad economy cut deeply into profits. Videots went from taking in $600 to $700 a day to taking in $60 a day in January 2010, he said. He paid his employees $9 a hour – a decent wage – and paid his landlord $4.10 a square foot in rent.
“I couldn’t keep the store open any longer than I did because I was hemorrhaging so badly,” he said. “When I closed the store I was, and still am, $20,000 in debt.”
Huffman said he started to alert customers that the store would close about three and a half weeks before the doors shut. He put out flyers telling customers with credit that he would exchange that for DVDs. More than 200 people mailed in the forms. If anyone else has outstanding credit, they can send a letter to Videots and it will be forwarded. The address is 2988 College Avenue, Berkeley, 94705.
In the meantime, a Videots customer, Jon Gabel, who sits on the board of the Rockridge Planning Council in Oakland, arranged for the purchase of about 2,877 of Videots DVDs wth the intention of donating them to the Rockridge Library. The planning council paid Huffman $4 per DVD, or about $11,500. It will cost an additional $7 per DVD to process and catalogue each DVD. Now the planning council must raise $32,000 to recoup the costs.
The Videots’ addition will double the Rockridge Library’s DVD collection, according to Annette Floysturp, who also sits on the council. There will plenty of British mysteries, documentaries, nature films, old films, and entertainment. Videots had a fantastic collection, she said.
Anyone with an Oakland Public Library card, including Berkeley residents, will be able to check out the DVDs when they are put on the shelves in a few months, she said.