old-school commerce gets creative

| 08 Nov 2016 | 05:51

Surviving 28 years strictly as a video rental outlet would’ve been mission impossible, so the owners of 5th Dimension Video, on York Avenue just below 76th Street, got creative. Over the years, husband and wife Allen Sun and Diana Tang added FedEx/UPS services, TV/DVD/VCR repair, snacks, drinks, and copy and fax machines. Still, it was not enough to boost store traffic. So about a year ago, Sun and Tang converted 300 square feet — almost half the store — into a music and dance school.

“A couple years ago, business really started to go down, so the choice was to close it or change it. We decided to change it,” said Sun, 69, who said he works 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week. “We have a very good reputation for the business and with our customers and didn’t want to give it up.”

The music and dance school idea came from Tang, 61, who has a master’s degree from Columbia University in musical education. “I already taught, and still teach piano at our apartment, and thought we could make better use of our space,” she said.

Tang teaches piano to about 10 children at the storefront studio. Parents, she said, are very pleased. Sun teaches violin and David Koch, who has been getting his videos and DVDs from 5th Dimension since the store opened, gives guitar lessons to between three to six students a week.

On a recent morning, toddlers were wrapping up their weekly ballet class with “high fives” from instructor Jennifer Smith for their good “tippy toes” and “big kicks.”

Smith lives two blocks from the store and has been teaching since July, first tap and now ballet.

“My husband gets his packages delivered to 5th Dimension and early this summer, Allen and Diana asked if he knows a dance teacher,” she said. “He said, ‘my wife!’ and it’s worked out great. My daughter gets to do the class with me ... a great way to start the morning.”

Along with music, vocal and dance classes, Sun and Tang rent out the space for other endeavors, such as chess and self-defense classes. Tim Mobley, who also lives nearby, has been a full-time chess instructor for eight years and taught daily sessions in the summer. He pays $60 to rent store space for a few hours each Monday afternoon.

Helana Natt, executive director of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, commended Sun and Tang for their unique survival skills within the city’s competitive retail environment, and as rents skyrocket.

“Major retailers have taken over from many small businesses because they can afford it, so [small businesses] need to be creative with branding and marketing, whether online or walk-in,” she said. “Businesses like that really need to reach out to their neighborhood community.”

Twenty-five years ago, Sun and Tang were paying $3,000 a month in rent for their store. It’s now $6,000. There’s also the burden of paying 25 percent, or $2,000, of the property tax due on the building.

Even with the additional income from the studio, surviving is “still tough,” Sun said.

Sun and Tang came from China about 30 years ago, have been married 33 years and have one son, a Cornell graduate with a successful business career. “We came here for him and made our American dream,” Sun said.

In fact, their son has offered to take care of his parents if they want to retire. Sun isn’t ready for that.

“We still love our customers and if the next lease is OK, we want to work,” he said. “It keeps us healthy.”