Langford video retailer last on the West Shore after chain stores close
First, Blockbuster Video closed its doors, then Rogers Video sold off its stock of DVDs. In the dog-eat-dog world of retail video rentals, 2 Thumbs Up Video has suddenly found itself as the sole survivor on the West Shore.
Besides a few corner stores offering DVD rentals, the independent Langford retailer “is the last man standing,” quipped 2 Thumbs Up co-owner Simon Moylan. Unlike their corporate competition, the owners say business is steady and plenty of people still rent DVDs.
“It’s would be a shame to see the death of the video store,” Moylan says. “It’s close, believe me, but we plan to stick around.”
In the past 25 years, video retailers weathered the format shift from Betamax to VHS, then to DVD and Blu-Ray. But legal and illegal downloading of movies on the Internet and immediate access to films through cable TV has helped shutter dozens of video outlets across the city.
Amber Sorenson, 2 Thumbs Up manager and eight-year employee, said Internet companies such as Netflix aren’t taking a big bite out of the retail video rentals, but pirated movies do cut into the bottom line – as does the increasingly popular video-on-demand (VOD).
VOD is practically a dirty word among the 2 Thumbs Up owners, but they compete by renting new release videos at a lower prices than what is piped through Shaw or Telus. As a point of pride, they also give clients plenty of slack when it comes to late fees.
“We’re flexible. We want to be a neighbourhood video store people want to come to,” says Ross Young the other owner of 2 Thumbs Up. “We understand people are our bread and butter. If they are good to us, we are good to them.”
With more options to access movie content at home, fewer people are venturing out to rent DVDs, a trend that shows no sign of reversing. Sorenson says rapid residential growth in Langford and Colwood helps balance out that trend.
“A lot of clients have been steady for 17 years,” she said. “Even before Rogers and Blockbuster closed, we had lots of loyal customers. A lot of people I have personally seen grow up, they’ve come here since they were kids.”
“There are a lot of older customers not plugged into the Internet, and they don’t want to be,” Young pointed out. “Some people have bought expensive home entertainment systems and worry there won’t be DVDs anymore.”
High speed, high bandwidth Internet and online distribution services have helped hollow out the retail video industry, but Royal Roads University communications professor David Black says the corporate economic model was pretty poor to begin with.
Big chains focused on pushing new Hollywood releases, which is only viable with a significant time lag between a video release to retailers and other players in the film distribution food chain. When that gap disappeared and customers didn’t have to suffer often rigid and unsympathetic policies on late fees, the big chains quickly unravelled.
And where most people wouldn’t shoplift a DVD, Black says the online digitization of movies and music – the lack of a physical product – has created expectations of free and easily accessible content, and a tolerance for illegal downloading.
“Once something is digitized, it’s not seen as attached to an economic transaction,” Black says. “When people no longer see a material form, they say ‘why should we pay for it?’”
He expects small video retailers to survive if they can carve out a niche for film buffs and can offer better quality selection than the latest Hollywood rom-com.
“When video stores disappear, people see the new media economy manifested directly. But peoples’ appetite for video content is very strong. They will find ways to get it, Blockbuster or not.
”The independents that survive have the advantage of being a place people want to go to,” Black adds. “Browsing DVDs and talking to staff, you get an informal film education, which you lose if everything is piped directly to us.”
The owners of 2 Thumbs Up say they don’t revel in the competition closing their doors, but it has helped bring in more customers.
“It’s never good to see anyone close. The people losing their jobs are young guys,” Young says. “As long as people keep coming, we aren’t shutting down. We’ve got six people working here. This is their livelihood.”