In an attempt to brush off the criticism generated by its red numbers, the company’s CEO Jim Keyes said to the Associated Press that Blockbuster Inc. will be aided by an exclusive deal with some films studios which allows it to release new movies a month in advance of other stores. Since the main contributor to the company’s losses is the ever-increasing capabilities of the Internet for movie downloads, notably those still in theatres, it is doubtful whether this strategy will be as powerful as suggested.
With the colossus of video rental stores having trouble competing with online movies, it’s a wonder that the Internet has not zapped ‘Mom and Pop’ businesses from existence. According to video store clerk Zac Campbell, smaller, independently-run stores have survived by avoiding what he refers to as the “dehumanization” plaguing Blockbuster Inc.
Campbell can be found sorting DVDs and suggesting films to Avenue Video customers on Monkland Avenue in Montreal. Founded in 2000 by fellow film enthusiast Mike Taylor, the business has three successful locations in the city. Campbell and its owner attribute the store’s survival to its focus on providing a “community experience.”
The mandate is twofold. First, the stores are located on streets packed with other essential family businesses, thus a trip to the video store is effortlessly added to a list of weekly errands. Second, Avenue Video is frequently improving its environment to make the act of visiting the store an experience in its own right.
Campbell describes surfing for movies on the Internet as a solitary activity, one from which Blockbuster has done little to distance itself. In the age of free, one-click downloads, successful video rental stores make browsing for movies almost as interesting as viewing them.
A film fanatic and past student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Campbell points to Halifax’s Video Difference and Charlottetown’s That’s Entertainment as other examples of independent rental stores that have a lucrative approach to loaning out films. Along with Avenue Video, these stores use their owners’ passion for movies as inspiration for their businesses.
Their staff is knowledgeable and likely to push lesser-known films. One of the many benefits of going to a rental store is leaving with a movie you thought you would never rent, or never knew existed.
The design of smaller stores favors this exploration of different genres and eras of films. Avenue Video has racks devoted to Criterion movies, foreign titles and music documentaries, while Video Difference has shelves categorized by famous directors and has set aside an area for the American Film Institute’s Top 100 movies. The smaller stores have difficulty competing with Blockbuster Inc. on new releases; however, they succeed in straying from this area in every direction, appealing to all rental store-goers when Blockbuster fails to do so.
The number of people using video stores, Campbell concedes, is declining, regardless of early release deals or the acquisition of hard-to-find movies. According to this video store employee, downloading is still intimidating for the majority of the population. Most movie enthusiasts continue to stress quality and diversity, two factors which are difficult to come by both at Blockbuster and on the Internet. By contributing to the movie-watching experience as a whole, and simultaneously maintaining customer loyalty, Avenue Video and its kind will probably outlive the impersonal colossus that is Blockbuster Inc.