Maithu Bui moved to Sacramento from Vietnam in 1992 for a better life. A few years later, she became the manager, then owner, of Awesome Video on Freeport Boulevard. But she doesn’t live the perceived posh life of a business owner. Instead, Bui works behind the counter, often seven days a week, National Public Radio playing in the background, her golden retriever Simba greeting customers. I worked at the store several years ago and recently popped in for a visit.
What makes this video store unique?I guess we’re the only independent video store around here, and we carry a variety, especially foreign and art house. Those are my favorites.
You used to offer a big selection of Japanese animation. What do you think about people who rent those? Think they’re weird?Well, we were the first store around here to carry Japanese animation. But when we updated to DVD, I let it slide because you can get it on the Internet. Now Korean drama [television series] are hot.
Are Netflix, Blockbuster and Hollywood Video killing the independent video store?Yeah, the Internet is. But Blockbuster and Hollywood I’m not afraid of. They are higher-priced than us, and they just target new releases but don’t stock rentals. We do a lot of stock rentals. So people come here to rent what they can’t find there.
Do you still carry VHS?About one-third of the store is VHS.
Do a lot of people rent VHS?Some people still do. But if they have a choice, they do DVD. You have some seniors and they would rather do VHS—more simple for them. Some titles they don’t make on DVD.
You’ve had some customers that have been coming here from the very beginning, right?You see some customers with over 2,000 rentals who come here regularly.
Do customers like having your dog Simba around?Oh yeah. Some weekends I work half-days and leave Simba at home and customers ask, “Where’s Simba?” I say, “He has the day off,” and they laugh.
Had any obnoxious customers lately?Once in a while we run into one. Working in customer service, you just deal with it and you don’t see it as anything big. It’s just a regular scene.
Do you agree or disagree with the statement, “The customer is always right"?I would say, OK, not 100 percent. You have to make the customer feel right, but sometimes you have to defend your employees. I will do what is right. I will do my best.
Do you remember that time my co-worker and I stopped a shoplifter by stealing his getaway bike and he threw VHS tapes at our heads? Do you have issues like that with shoplifters very often?No. With the way we set up the store, they can’t come here and steal. We ran into one that was really bad. This guy would come in and steal DVDs and we didn’t know who it was, but we had a hint. Finally, one time, Vicki was working and she called me at home at almost closing time and said that guy was here, and I ran from home. When I came, there were three customers inside and I confronted him.
Wow.Yeah. And he ran.
Oh my gosh.I held his jacket and said, “You have to drop whatever you have.” Oh boy, it was scary. But I didn’t feel danger. I didn’t feel like, OK, he might have a knife. I felt pissed. You can’t come here and steal things like that. It’s not fair. That’s what ran through my mind. So I said, “If you have anything, drop it and I’ll let you go.” The customers saw me struggle with him, and they came and tackled him at the door. He couldn’t move. We called the police, and two or three cop cars came and arrested him. He had 20 or 30 DVDs on his body.
When was this?Back around January. I’ve seen him walking around the neighborhood. He was a regular customer, which is so sad.
Have you been working a lot of hours?Yeah, lately, trying to cover the expenses and the rent.
Do you even have time to watch movies?I do. Most of the foreign films I will watch first [before they’re released].
Do you have any really fond memories from Awesome Video?You get to know the customers and know their kids and know their stories. Sometimes, they’ll just come and stand and talk for hours, and they’re glad they have someone to talk to. There was an incident a long time ago with this one customer, this guy, who was really rude and he came in and he made a bad remark about our store, like “I wish you guys would go out of business,” and a couple years later he came back and apologized. So those kinds of things make you feel like, oh wow, people do realize when they do things wrong and they come back and want to say sorry. That makes your day.