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Published: Wednesday, 5/2/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Video stores still hanging on in digital age

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A sign on the door to Video Spectrum in Bowling Green informs customers they are closed. A sign on the door to Video Spectrum in Bowling Green informs customers they are closed.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

With the recent closure of the Blockbuster in Bowling Green as well as the independently owned and operated Video Spectrum, the town's residents are without a video rental store.

That's left 43-year-old movie buff Mike Zickar in a quandary. He relied on Video Spectrum to feed his appetite for obscure and foreign film titles, usually devouring three movies a week. Now he's looking to other sources for his film diet, namely streaming movies through Video On Demand and Apple TV, as well as simply buying more DVDs for his collection.

Visits to a video rental store, meanwhile, are no longer part of his weekly ritual, something he views as part of a larger trend nationwide.

"I think all videos stores are going to go [out of business]," said Mr. Zickar, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University. "If I had some capital, I wouldn't be investing in a store -- especially one that catered to my needs. I think you would go out business pretty quickly."

The good news for Bowling Green residents is Family Video is in talks to open a location in the former Blockbuster site at 816 S. Main St. in the next few months.

"We are in negotiations with the landlord as we speak," said John Kobylanski, Family Video's regional director in charge of its northern Ohio stores. "We're hoping to have a store in Bowling Green soon, in the very near future, so people have the option to rent from a local video store again."

The Bowling Green location would be one of dozens new stores Family Video opens annually.

"We are opening about 40 to 50 more stores ... in 19 different states," Mr. Kobylanski said. "We're having record years of profit each and every year."

Family Video is the exception to the growing trend of video rental stores losing customers to the convenience of in-home streaming movies.

Last year, video stores experienced a nearly 30 percent drop in rentals from 2010, according to the Hollywood Reporter, while the kiosk rental business -- mostly Redbox -- was up 31 percent.

Kelly Delvaux, left, of the Jackman Road Family Video location, rents video games to Derek Roach, center, and Alontae Grimes. Kelly Delvaux, left, of the Jackman Road Family Video location, rents video games to Derek Roach, center, and Alontae Grimes.
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The big news, though, is the growing preference consumers have to digital delivery -- mostly streaming -- to in-store rentals. Video On Demand, Netflix, and other movie-streaming sources have cut mightily into the number of renters, as digital delivery surged to 51 percent and nearly $3.42 billion, up from $2.26 billion in 2010.

Locally, sales of movies purchased on the Video On Demand platform by Buckeye CableSystem subscribers increased between 35 percent to 50 percent from 2010 to 2011.

The fallout has been quick and staggering.

Several large video chains have already disappeared, while the nation's largest video rental chain, Texas-based Blockbuster Video, recently announced it's shuttering more than 500 of its 1,500 nationwide stores in the first half of this year. Among the casualties is the Monroe Street location, which will leave Toledo without a Blockbuster. In early 2010 Blockbuster had six Toledo-area stores.

That leaves Toledo with 10 Family Video locations, independent movie rental stores such as Galaxy Video, 2829 W. Central Ave., and Sights & Sounds Movies and Games, at 1814 Laskey Rd., and public libraries, which offer a wide selection of DVD and Blu-ray titles for free.

John Eldred, owner of Sights & Sounds, first got into the video rental business in 1983. He had the idea for the store after seeing a line of 30 to 40 customers snaking out of the door of a local Video Connection.

He opened his first Sights & Sounds at its present location. Business was good and Mr. Eldred expanded. He eventually sold all of his stores to Blockbuster, and focused on his Holland-based company Midwest Tape, which provides media content -- DVDs, CDs, audiobooks -- to libraries throughout North America. But in June, Mr. Eldred reopened Sights & Sounds.

"I thought it was going to be a money-making operation ... and there was a little bit of nostalgia," he said.

Mr. Eldred's instincts have proved correct so far, he said, and business is good. But if he had followed the advice of a late-1980s article in USA Today, he would have gotten out of the video rental industry entirely. The business story predicted the demise of video rental stores and the rise of streaming movies by the early 1990s.

"I didn't believe them," Mr. Eldred said.

And while the story's prediction proved to be correct, albeit nearly two decades later, Mr. Eldred still doesn't believe video rental stores and even physical media -- DVDs and Blu-rays -- are joining 8-track and cassette tapes anytime soon.

"DVDs will eventually go away. We don't know when that will happen," he said. "But people like to shop for something to watch. ... And with a lot of stock, there's other things in [the store] that people will rent and they don't always know what they want.

"The premise of the expansion and the success of the video store was not getting what you want. You would walk in for Die Hard or Dirty Dancing and the video store would have X amounts of copies and that would be gone, so you would look on the shelf and see what else you could find. That's how the video store made a lot of its money, not on the new releases but with everything else you had."

Certainly Mr. Zickar laments the closing of his beloved Video Spectrum.

"I moved to Bowling Green 15 years ago and at that time I was watching five to six movies a week," Mr. Zickar said. "It was a real savior moving to town and having that as a resource. It was a small business that really celebrated the obscure."

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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