Some Video Rental Stores Hanging On in the Digital Age

| February 19, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – While the digital age has captured our society’s attention with instant access through video streaming services, there are some brick-and-mortar video rental stores still hanging on in our region.

(PHOTO: Chris Arduini, owner of Oil City Movie Stop.)

Following the advent of Netflix and other streaming services, the decline in the brick-and-mortar video rental industry came quickly.

Blockbuster Video, long considered a staple of the business with almost 9,000 locations across the nation during its peak, declared bankruptcy in 2010 and became part of DISH in 2011, offering their own On Demand service. According to The Verge, one brick-and-mortar Blockbuster store remains open in Bend, Oregon.

This week, exploreVenango.com had an opportunity to visit the only remaining brick-and-mortar video rental store in Venango County, the Oil City Movie Stop, talk to the owner, visit with the customers, and attempt to find out what keeps this video rental business going.

One customer explained why he preferred renting movies from a video store over Redbox rentals. He was taking his time, lingering in the aisles, and browsing the movie titles.

“A lot of people are like me. You go to these machines, and you have to put your credit card information in. I don’t own a credit card, and even if I did, I would not put that in a box like that. The way everything is being hacked anymore, I’d rather come to a place like this.”

Another video customer appeared to be enjoying looking at the selection of the movies, taking her time to read the previews. With the wide selection of movies available, she could spend hours finding a suitable movie.

As with any small business, there are more components to the store than just the product. One of them being the social element of going into a neighborhood store and having a face-to-face conversation with the owner or a community member.

Oil City Movie Stop owner Chris Arduini said there is a definite social aspect to choosing a video rental store over a streaming service or rental box.

“You can talk to someone about the movies, and people still see neighbors here, just like they used to,” he noted.

“A lot of people also don’t want to wait in line to pick something, especially when the weather is bad.”

Oil City Movie Stop has been in business since 1985 when it was brought in to complement Rent Town, a rent-to-own business that offered the opportunity to rent-to-own VCRs.

“The renters got coupons for one free rental per week, which built it up, then it took off on its own,” said Arduini.

Being in business during the era of the videotape format war, they offered both VHS and Betamax tapes, and later also offered laserdiscs before DVDs took over the field.

The Rent Town part of the business was sold in the mid to late 90s, and Movie Stop became the primary business. Arduini, who had already been working there for a number of years, took over the business in 2002.

According to Arduini, though business has decreased since the advent of streaming, the store still does well, with a number of loyal customers who still rent on a regular basis.

“People enjoy coming in, picking it up, looking at it, getting some information about it.”

“With Redbox, after so long, they don’t have things anymore. They have things for a few weeks, maybe a couple of months tops.”

While Redbox options can be quite limited, and even streaming services only have certain titles, at a business like Oil City Movie Stop, the collection is always expanding.

“We have an inventory of about 12,000 titles. We still keep classics that people can’t find other places, and we are always complementing the older titles that we have, along with new movies. There are still movies that are 20 to 30 years old that I get into the store to replace VHS copies that we had,” Arduini said.

“Each week, we add at least two or three old titles, and we’re talking about anything from black-and-white movies to 80s movies to old horror movies. People come in and look at our horror section and squeal because we have just about everything, and we also have a prequel/sequel section that goes with new movies coming out, so if someone wants to go back and see all the Halloween movies, they can.”

Arduini noted another thing people like is the range of rental options they offer, with everything from two-day rentals to seven-day rentals, making it easier for those in the surrounding area to rent.

In Clarion County, residents have memories of several video rental businesses in the Clarion area; however, the only one that currently remains is Knox Video & Discount Market.

While the owners of the business were unavailable for comment, one regular customer gave us her perspective on why some people still prefer brick-and-mortar businesses to other options, such as streaming and Redbox rentals.

“I don’t like all the complications of streaming and Redbox, and I don’t want to give my credit card to just that random box in the wall. I just don’t want to do it. I’d just rather go grab a movie and go home,” explained Mindy Beichner, owner of Mama Mindy’s Hair Salon in Knox.

“I like looking over the videos, reading the back, grabbing a few, and then watching them with the kids. And, the best part is it’s inexpensive!”

While the arrival of Netflix and other similar subscription streaming services is most often cited as the primary cause of the decline in brick-and-mortar video rental stores, Lenny Martin – owner of Silverscreen Video in Clearfield, SilverScreen Video in Tyrone, and Adventure Video in Philipsburg – believes a more recent issue has been an even larger issue.

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“We actually did fairly well through all of it, we did see a downturn over the last three years, but the biggest impact has probably been this last year, not from Netflix or cable downloads or streaming. I contribute it to the illegal use of Fire Sticks,” Martin said.

An Amazon Fire TV Stick is a streaming device which plugs directly into the USB port of a television and connects to the internet via Wi-Fi. Fire Sticks which have been “jailbroken” have media player software installed to allow people to stream additional content through third-party plugins, some of which provide access to pirated and/or unlicensed content.

“It’s gotten so bad that Netflix and a number of studios have recognized the issue and built an alliance to combat it,” explained Martin.

The alliance Martin referenced is a known as the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), which is made up of over 30 entertainment companies, including such big hitters as Disney, Warner Brothers, Netflix, and Amazon.

ACE has already reached a settlement with the operators of Dragon Box after bringing legal action against them for designing, marketing, and selling a computer hardware device and service that enabled mass theft and illegal distribution of copyrighted films and television shows, and filed another lawsuit last week against OmniverseOne World Television, Inc. and its owner, Jason M. DeMeo, for violating U.S. law by illegally streaming copyrighted content.

“I wish they would have acted sooner,” Martin said.

“These are the death of video stores, and they’re also hurting theaters and services like Netflix. In the U.K. they already fine people, with hefty fines, but the U.S. has been slow at getting at it, and unfortunately, the Tyrone store couldn’t wait it out.”

While Martin’s stores in Clearfield and Phillipsburg are both hanging on, they recently announced the impending closure of their Tyrone store.

“The most rapid changes I’ve seen is in this last year, and I know that’s what it’s from. When I saw all three stores affected at the same time, and nothing changed with Netflix or anything else, I started asking people, mostly the younger generation, and they started telling me about the Fire Sticks.”

While Martin has seen some decline in business, he noted that there are currently no plans to close the Clearfield or Phillipsburg stores.

“People still like the atmosphere, the experience of the store. We see a lot of people coming in who have cut their cable, and we’re even seeing people coming back that we hadn’t seen in years. We’ll still be here as long as those people are supporting us.”

While Blockbuster may be gone and just a few smaller, local video rental businesses survive, there is still one major video rental chain that has survived in the digital age. According to Forbes, Family Video currently operates 759 locations in 19 states and Canada, and brought in an estimated $400 million in revenue in 2016.

According to the company owner, Keith Hoogland, Family Video survived by operating differently than the other big chains, keeping stores company-owned and on company-owned real estate, and choosing to purchase films outright and keep all of the rental proceeds, rather than accepting discounted movies and agreeing to split the revenue as Blockbuster did.

Currently, Family Video still operates multiple locations throughout western Pennsylvania, including Titusville, Butler, Indiana, Warren, Meadville, Corry, New Castle, Greenville, Sharon, Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown, and Altoona.

In the more urban areas of western Pennsylvania, a number of video rental businesses remain.

The Pittsburgh region has Family Video locations in Moon Township, Lower Burrell, Greensburg, and New Brighton, plus about two dozen other independent video rental stores scattered throughout the area from Classic Video in Shadyside to Star Flicks on McKnight Road downtown.

Erie has Family Video locations on East 38th Street, as well as in Millcreek, and in Girard.


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