Sole surviving 'Captain Video' thrives in the age of streaming services

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- The days of bustling video rental retailers like Blockbuster are long gone. However, high-tech advancements haven't stopped one San Mateo video rental shop from thriving for nearly 35 years.

An antique store once occupied 2837 South El Camino Real. Now, a decades-old video rental shop remains with antiques of a different kind.

Visitors will find blasts from the past, like VHS tapes and Betamax, all managed by Ira Belfer.

Belfer, 65, is the owner and only employee at Captain Video.

"When people come in this store, they know I'm here," Belfer told ABC7 News.

He's running the sole surviving Captain Video in the country. Belfer's been in business every day since March 1985, though he admits someone else ran the front desk that time he had surgery, and a legal obligation once forced a late start.

"I had jury duty which I couldn't get out of," he explained. "So, the store opened at 12 o'clock. I was lucky they let me out at 12:00."

At a time when high rent is pushing out mom and pops and leaving empty storefronts, Belfer is somehow making the business work.

"This guy here is the only guy hanging around and keeping it open," regular customer, Tony Ferreira said.

Ferreira and others who frequent Captain Video help to keep Belfer in business. It's a crowd of people who prefer an in-person exchange over solitary streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. They're also customers who seek out DVDs for extra behind-the-scenes footage.

Behind a black curtain is a collection of adult films. Belfer said rentals and sales make up a big portion of the shop's revenue.

"It's probably 60-40 now, regular to adult," he explained. "It depends, during the week it's a little more back there. On the weekend, when families are off from work, they come and rent movies."

Belfer also acknowledged over-the-phone or Internet services don't entirely offer customer service.

"I get the prompts and I get the, 'Press 3.' And 'I want to get you to the right person, Press 6,'" he said. "Finally, after 10 minutes, you get frustrated or finally someone comes on."

"You just want to talk to a human being," Belfer added.

Others pointed to nostalgia, taking it back to a time before high-tech.

At Captain Video, rental rates haven't changed in 35 years.

"It's still, to this day, $2.99 to rent a movie," Belfer said. "How many things in 35 years haven't gone up or quadrupled in price?"

Belfer said, in the last three decades, "I've seen people grow up. I've seen people die. I see grandchildren being born. And you know, some people just go away and you have no idea why."

He explained, "You sacrifice a lot when you work as much as I do, but I do get a lot of joy and happiness and I have a lot of family here."
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