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So Long, Video Stores

by Sean P. Aune | March 28, 2010March 28, 2010 12:49 pm PDT

While a lot of talk has gone on about how video stores are doomed, and there is no denying I have personally talked about it a lot, it always seems to be done in the context of the big cities.  What about the small towns that don’t have as many rental options?  What happens when one of our main rental stores shuts down?

mgshelvesThis is exactly the situation my small town of Kirksville,MO finds itself in as our Movie Gallery is one of the 730 slated for closing.  The announcement was made on Thursday that it would be shutting down, and by Friday the sale had begun to clear out all of the merchandise (except video games and movie releases from the past 30 days are not for sale as of yet), as the signs says, “Everything Must Go.”

By the time I got there around 6:15 PM after leaving the gym, the shelves were already pretty well decimated, and people were still picking through what was left. The employees were moping around and discussing the different places they would be applying for jobs. I ran into an old acquittance of mine who stated that he had no clue why the place was closing down, and I said, “It’s pretty simple: Netflix and Redbox.” An employee who was passing by pointed at me and lit up like a Christmas tree and said, “He nailed it!” Apparently knowing who brought them to an end as opposed to speculating actually made her happy, although I have no clue why.

Years ago, Kirksville had eleven stores you could rent movies from.  When Hastings moved in around ten years ago, the other stores started to dry up through attrition, and once Movie Gallery moved in and built its own building about five years ago, that pretty much knocked it down to just the two of them.

Then about two years ago those odd Redbox DVD kiosks started showing up, and I got my subscription to Blockbuster By Mail (I have since switched to Netflix).  I went over to a friend’s house for dinner and saw his Netflix envelopes sitting there ready to be mailed back, and more friends told me how they were now using the various mail order rental services.  It was becoming obvious to me that the rental industry as we once knew it was doomed.

Over the years I had become a less and less frequent renter of movies because I couldn’t always count on my schedule allowing me two windows of opportunity to not only go rent the movie, but also getting it back on time.  The idea of the “destination” rental store just doesn’t make sense any more in most people’s lives.  You want to rent a movie, but stopping at some place like Movie Gallery means another stop while you are out running errands.  Netflix delivers them to your mailbox or streams it into your living room.  The Redbox kiosks allow you to pick up a movie while you are grocery shopping, stopping at Walmart or even picking up lunch at McDonalds and you can do it 24 hours a day depending on where it is located.  Who has time to go to yet another store?

The "evil" Redbox at my WalmartWith the recent news that Blockbuster may file for bankruptcy protection, it makes it clear that the video rental business model that first appeared in the early 1980’s is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  I honestly don’t know if the stores have anyone to blame but themselves because they were the kings of the industry for so long, they didn’t notice the routes new competition were taking to muscle in on their market.  It’s all about convenience now, and the destination video store is anything but that.

As I browsed the shelves of the local Movie Gallery, I heard the employees say multiple times, “Where were all these people when we needed them?”, and I shifted uncomfortably realizing I was being a vulture, picking at the carcass of a dying beast.  I had been in the store exactly once before this visit, and there I was holding a stack of five DVDs I was buying from their funeral.  (There were three more I wanted, but they were under 30 days old)  I felt a bit of guilt, but it passed when I thought about how their store was in a part of town I don’t drive by that often, or if I do, I’m on my way somewhere else.  At home, my Roku sits snuggly under my television, holding thousands of films for me to watch at a moment’s notice, or I could stop at the Redbox in my Walmart which is the store I probably shop at far more often than is healthy.  I shrugged, checked out with my films and headed home.

While I still go into Hastings to pick up magazines from time to time, I imagine that my stopping at Movie Gallery to take pictures for this article and to see what they had left will be the last time I ever stop in a destination video store.  The marketplace has changed, and if the video chains aren’t willing to change with it, they will all suffer similar fates.  Consumers want content when they want it, and how they want it.  Asking us to come into your store just doesn’t work any more unless you have something else to offer us.  Hastings carries books, magazines, toys, music and more in addition to renting DVDs and games, so I imagine it can survive a bit longer, but places like Movie Gallery and Blockbuster?   We know where they’re going.

What say you?  Is the traditional video rental store format in its twilight years?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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