Why Brick-and-Mortar Video Stores Are Still Kicking

What does it take to compete with Netflix today? Check out what these flesh-and-blood shop owners have to say

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 07 Apr 2017 at 8:25 AM

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, people had to get into their cars and drive to brick-and-mortar buildings in order to buy or rent a movie to watch. Up and down the aisles — all organized by genre — they would travel, asking questions of fellow customers or store employees likely hoping to be the next Quentin Tarantino.

Then came Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Slowly, video stores became relics of a different time. Today, finding one is about as rare as finding a drive-in movie screen — another antiquated version of distributing movies to the masses.

But just because Blockbuster Video is a distant memory and video stores don’t still pop up on every street corner doesn’t mean they’re entirely gone. Some still function — and function well as staples of their towns. They fight for what they feel is a method of finding and watching movies that should be far more treasured in today’s digital world, in which all you need are fingers and a computer screen.

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LifeZette reached out to a few of the brick-and-mortar video stores that are still running in 2017 to find out how they compete with the streaming giants of today. We also asked about the appeal video store can still have.

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Westside Video (Santa Cruz, California). Westside Video is an independent video store in Santa Cruz, California, that claims to have largest video catalogue in the area.

It’s that large catalogue they have that helps set them apart from today’s favorite streaming giants, they believe.

“If one were to pay to subscribe to every digital streaming service out there, that person could begin to get close to our inventory. One or two, like just having Netflix and Hulu, is not going to cut it. Once you’ve got a huge inventory, who is curating it? Who is making recommendations for each customer? Here, we don’t use algorithms and arbitrary tags,” Ashlyn N. Adams of Westside Video told LifeZette.

She continued, “Go on Netflix and notice just how many B-movie sequels are bloating their numbers. They’ve got original content, too, which we think is great. Never stop creating. But if they’re going to be 50 percent original content and 50 percent duds in a couple years, customers are going to need other things to watch, new and classic and cult.”

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Adams believes the human interaction makes all the difference, especially when it comes to movie recommendations.

“There’s that true human touch. Amazon Prime will give you a list of movies other people have watched after the one you viewed. Lovely. Really. But when your dad just died and you need someone to tell you how you, specifically you, can be cheered up, and tell you what you should not watch due to sensitive issues, you need a person. We are helping one such customer this week. We help people mourn, and celebrate, and gain empathy, and grow emotionally, and explore new worlds. We are the librarians of film, and we will find you the right thing to watch out of zillions of options.”

“We are the librarians of film.”

Westside Video also sets itself apart by offering delivery and repair services. And its website contains movie reviews written by staff.

King Tut Video (Irvine, Kentucky). This is one of the country's last functioning video stores. To this place, direct human contact is exactly what many people are craving today.

"We have owned King Tut Video for 20 years. A person behind the counter with a smiling face is something that people love. They actually get out of the house. Streaming is OK, but the Blu-ray and DVD are clearer, and customers still get the new releases every Tuesday. I try to watch the new ones, and I let my customers know if the movie was good or not," wrote the business in response to an inquiry from LifeZette.

Bart & Greg's DVD Explosion (Brunswick, Maine). Bart & Greg's DVD Explosion is not just a video store still kicking in 2017, but also a staple of its town. It's known to nearly all the locals and still visited consistently by many, even those with Netflix or Hulu subscriptions.

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"It boils down to one thing: If you want it, we've got it," co-owner Bart D'Alauro told Maine Today in 2015. "At this point, we have about 35,000 discs, which translates to about 26,000 individual movies and TV series."

D'Alauro thinks there's a difference in the way people watch movies from a video store versus from a streaming service — and it should be no question which he thinks is better.

"Netflix affects the way people watch movies. They watch 10 minutes and, if they're not into it, they flip to the next movie. With a video store, there's the fact that [people have] paid their $3.50, they're going to give this a shot — you're watching more challenging movies for that reason. The Netflix effect means people are only watching things in their comfort zone, genres they're comfortable with. Movies that give them all the info they need in the first 10 minutes, when part of the fun of watching movies is trying to figure out who these people are, why they're doing what they're doing. It's a variation on cable — you take what you're given."

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