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Be kind, rewind: Video rental shop surviving in streaming age

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, September 1, 2018
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Movie Magic

MOVIE MAGIC – Annette Williams, owner of the Movie Shop in Boyd, holds up a few of her DVD rentals Thursday. WIlliams took over as owner of the video rental store in 1988 and has owned it ever since. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Next to the fancy restaurant in Boyd, in a land that time forgot, the hunt is on.

Just past the hallway lined by tanning beds, sundresses, jewelry and a wide array of hats, the smell of fresh baked pizza and cinnamon-stick churros greet the nostrils. To the left, the ever-shrinking display of DVDs and Blu-Rays stretches to the ceiling.

The new releases arrived Tuesday morning and customers mill about, transported to a simpler time, when be-kind-rewind was a true test of character.

The Movie Store in Boyd has been around since 1986. Here, customers find their weekend entertainment by strolling instead of scrolling.

It was the first video rental store of its kind in Wise County. Now it’s the last.

In 30 years, the video rental store, a living breathing dinosaur, has seen the titans of the video industry rise and fall.

Once unsinkable ships, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, Planet Video, Movie Gallery and Hastings have all gone extinct. Built on the video rental chains’ graves are the current online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime video as wells as DVD vending machines like Redbox.

But after 30 years, through shifts from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray, 4K and streaming, the video store that could has found a way.

Annette Williams has owned the shop since 1988. She said a lot has changed since she set up shop in Boyd.

The big storefront was once lined, wall-to-wall with $65 VHS tapes.

Now, there’s a full-fledged Italian restaurant, a clothing boutique and several tanning beds inside. The rental section is reserved to just a sliver of the shop now.

Adaptation has been the key to surviving, Williams said.

“I had to change things up,” Williams said. “It was the only way.”

Williams took over the shop when she was pregnant. She wanted to raise her family in Boyd. She’s worked to connect with the community since she took over the shop. It’s her favorite part about the video rental business, meeting customers and becoming friends.

There’s no high-tech algorithms here, just a woman and three long-time managers working long hours and picking up on customers’ movie interests by the minute.

“We watch the movies and know our customers,” Williams said. “Just don’t ask me about the scary stuff. I direct all the horror movie questions to [store manager] Staci Sanders. That’s her thing.”

Williams knows many of her customers by name. She’s seen some come in for decades and watched them grow up before her eyes, bringing their children into the store.

She said it’s interesting seeing children raised on streaming see DVDs for the first time.

“They’re like, ‘look, this is how we used to watch movies,'” Williams said.

For around 15 years, Williams saw the video rental business boom. Rental chains sprang up all around Wise County.

The biggest threat during that time were chains like Blockbuster, which came to Decatur decades ago. The chain with the iconic blue and yellow logo had a reputation for muscling out little privately-owned shops like the Movie Store.

But Blockbuster has long since closed its doors and the Movie Store remains.

Back in 1985, Blockbuster came on the scene, opening its first location in Dallas. Within 19 years the company added 9,093 stores, becoming a company worth $2.5 billion and a staple of street corners across the country.

In 2011, after a series of missed opportunities like turning down an offer to purchase Netflix for $50 million in the early 2000s, Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Netflix is now valued at over $152 billion.

While streaming is now a giant, Williams said the biggest blow for the industry was chains like Walmart selling DVDs for pennies on the dollar. She said she would pay full price for the DVD while Walmart would sell copies at a loss.

“Netflix wasn’t what hurt us the most,” Williams said. “It was the mass merchants. The industry turned it into a purchase thing instead of a rental thing.”

Now, after the Walmarts of the world started selling DVDs for cheap and streaming services and cable TV began occupying most peoples screens, Williams said video rental stores are often an afterthought along the film distribution food chain.

She has to purchase the movie posters that line the walls and windows in the store.

“I have to pay for their marketing. It wasn’t always like that,” Williams said.

Despite the blows dealt to the video rental industry over the years, the Movie Store has found its niche. The future isn’t necessarily bright, and Williams said video rental isn’t necessarily profitable, but she has no intentions of killing off the video side of her store.

“It’s what brings people in the door,” she said. “Get a pizza and get a movie to watch. They go together.”

Williams said there’s a market for renting video still, albeit a small one. She has loyal customers for a reason.

Mainly, she said people who can’t afford to pay for internet and rural customers rely on their new releases for their weekend entertainment. They may not be able to pay for internet or satellite, but they can afford to rent a few movies.

But there’s other benefits that draw people to the video store, Williams said.

She said there’s something to renting a video compared to Netflix. Seeing and touching the titles, wandering the aisle, surrounded by the choices and making a selection to plan your weekend around.

“There’s a human factor here,” she said. “It’s been that way since we opened.”

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