Published: April 18, 2012
The customers come one after the other. A tall, tan man walks in wearing a pink Polo short and khaki shorts. "Hey, how you doing, Mike?" Julian says. The man says a friendly hello back and dashes to a booth. "He's a regular," Julian says, laughing. "Every day he's here. He doesn't miss a day. Every day he spends five bucks. Every fucking day. But that's OK."
Another regular emerges from the back after a brief time in a booth. "I'll be back to buy those movies we talked about," the gray-whiskered man tells Julian before leaving.
A middle-aged guy, a longtime customer, walks in to return his herbal erection pills. Defective, he insists. Julian obliges with an exchange, even though he takes the loss. It's all about keeping his loyal customers happy.
"A lot of the guys who come in here are regulars," he says. "When I started here I knew a guy who had brown hair; now it's white. You know what I'm saying? You develop friendships over the years. They're not just customers; you know them by name, you talk to them, you get to know where they work. I know if they have kids and if they have cottages up north. They'll even say, "You won't see me for the week. I'm going to my cottage up north.'"
Some people might think a place like this too seedy to consider it a mom-and-pop, but Julian and his siblings essentially grew up here. His dad passed it down; first to his brother, now to him. It's bought him a modest home. It's putting his kids through college. It feeds his family.
But for how long? The features shown in the booths are increasingly available for free online, and it's hard to compete with free. Like all mom-and-pop owners in the city do at some point, he wonders how long he can last.
"Yeah, sure, it runs through your head," Julian says. He's thought about switching careers, something people don't wince at, but he'd be trading a still-steady business for something unknown. "I mean, I have a few ideas but, you know, my equipment's paid for, my building's paid for, and you're caught in that perfect storm — do I get out? And then if business keeps going down, who's going to buy it? The good days are behind me, and I know that here with this business. Sometimes you sit and think, jeez, what else can I do?"
A woman's high-def moan jolts the room from the peep show in back. A few minutes later, a man emerges and heads back out into the bright sunshine. Another satisfied customer, another booth to mop, another few bucks coming into the old family store.
Detroitblogger John is John Carlisle. He scours the Motor City for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.
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