By Justin Swanson, Special to the Independent
Parviz “Paul” Shoaii is dismantling memories. The process pains him as it forces the recollection of 30 years and reflection about his consequence as changing technology swept away his customer-base. His Laguna Video was the last video store in South Orange County, by Shoaii’s count.
“Paul met my daughter when she was 2,” said longtime resident Ron Ellis, holding his hand so-high, “She’s 28 now and he still knows her. He’s watched kids grow up here in this community.” Ellis was assisting in the deconstruction of the video store’s interior.
The downtown video rental store at Forest Avenue closed for good, and with it a trove of welcome mental excursions and a veritable “gathering place” for the Laguna community.
“My business was a community,” Shoaii explained. “Going to the video store is an event for people. They have fun. They spend time with their family. It’s different than a theatre experience, where you buy a ticket and sit in a dark room. Here people are sharing with each other, talking about what movies they’ve seen.”
He sighs. “It’s a place that brings joy and delight and now it is disappearing.”
As the owner of the property, Shoaii is preparing the building for his two new tenants who begin moving in Sept. 1. Before the two art galleries occupy the space, Shoaii stops to remember where he and his store came from, where they have been, and where he alone goes to next.
Shoaii, who is now a US citizen, emigrated from Iran when he was 17 years-old. He eventually earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana State University. As a mechanical engineer living in Costa Mesa in 1982, Shoaii began researching the growing enterprise of videotape rentals, which he saw as a “lucrative” business in which to join. He chose to set up shop in Laguna Beach, one of his “favorite spots on Earth.” Along with his cousin, Shoaii began renting Laguna Video’s first location at 435 Ocean Ave. where, together, they built all the shelves and desks, later transported and installed at subsequent locations. Shoaii remembers the exact day they opened: Feb. 28, 1982.
After making a short move to 376 Ocean Ave. a year after opening, Shoaii quit his job and focused on the video store full time. Over the next decade he saw “significant growth” that justified expanding to a small video empire, opening five more stores across Lake Forest, Irvine, Laguna Niguel, and Mission Viejo.
“The business sort of came easy to me. I was just using common sense,” said Shoaii of his relative lack of business expertise. The boom years, though, were short-lived in the ‘90s as chain video stores moved into the niche.
Blockbuster and Hollywood Videos hurt Shoaii’s business and the lack of growth forced him to consolidate to two stores, including the Laguna location, which he took over. His cousin managed the other but sold it not long after the businesses were divvied up.
Around this time, Shoaii bought several apartments and began managing properties, providing him a steady income that supports him to this day. Like his shrewd investment in a fast-growing sector, Shoaii also took advantage of a real estate recession in Orange County in the ‘90s, maintaining apartment property ownership to this day.
The final blow to Shoaii’s business came from online streaming and downloading of films. He predicts online services such as Netflix will fall by the wayside, too, as the eradication of “middlemen” continues, eventually leading to direct consumer access to films from studios.
Having bought the Laguna Video property around 2000, Shoaii was able to divide the property and subsequently began looking for tenants, which “didn’t materialize” until five months ago. Two years ago, Shoaii received a permit to subdivide the property, which was allowed because the property previously was divided. One of the new tenants will be Forest and Ocean Gallery and the other is CES Design, a contemporary art gallery.
As for Shoaii himself, the 60 year-old Laguna resident he plans to take it easy for a while before exploring what to do next. He is looking forward to retirement.
But on this day, he is looking backwards.
“People have been coming in to shake hands and give me hugs and say how much they will miss this establishment. They say they see an ‘icon’ missing and how leaving is like taking away memories.”
His affection is uncontrived.
“I learned from everyone who came in here. I transformed as a man just by meeting people and learning form them. I got a broader idea of the school of life and I couldn’t imagine learning as much from others any other way.”