Support Your Local Video Store – the Last Man Standing

It’s Saturday night. “Let’s rent a movie,” you say. Easier said than done. You live far away from the Mission area of Kelowna, and you don’t feel like driving half way across town just to rent a movie.

As of early September, the only part of town – including West Kelowna – to rent a movie is in the Mission. Our choices for renting a flick have diminished to a mere two video stores: Rogers Video on Lakeshore and Leo’s Videos on Pandosy.

Earlier this year we lost the Rogers store on Dilworth and back in September the Rogers store on Hwy 97 closed its doors. All Blockbuster stores stopped renting movies at the end of the summer.

Leo’s Videos will continue to operate indefinitely while the Rogers on Lakeshore is to remain open until summer of 2013.

Leo Bartel (in photo above)  owner of Leo’s Videos, has seen his business increase significantly since the Rogers and Blockbuster closings. “We had a record number of new customers last month,” he says. “It was probably our third or fourth best month EVER. We all knew the closings were happening, but we just crossed our fingers and hoped we could make it. it’s been really really good for us and worth taking the hit for the last few years.”

Bartel’s store is even noticing a trend in his customers’ demographic. “If we’re talking general look of people, as far as age, then not really,” he says. “But definitely film style. We’re getting way more people looking for the big title of the week. Before we were looking at films with higher ratings and now we’re buying more of the big films because we’re getting that group of people right now. That new business is great for us.”

While Leo’s Videos and the one remaining Rogers store benefit from the lack of competition, for those of us wanting to just rent a movie the options are limited. How did we get here? Advances in technology got us here. The typical video store is suffering the same slow and painful death that record stores had to endure not long after Y2K. Just like iTunes did to the record store, the service came along and paved the way for Netflix and other popular movie streaming services.

But can online streaming services and video on demand match the high quality of Bluray? Many may not notice the difference in video and audio quality between a high-def download from iTunes and Bluray, but Bartel believes it’s significant – and his customers tend to agree. “We’ve had a huge increase in Bluray business, but with Blockbuster gone our Bluray business has doubled. We’re getting close to 1,000 Bluray titles now, and finally people are renting more of both our old and new titles. Right now it’s the only way to REALLY get the full movie experience, as you can’t have the same quality in video and sound with streaming or online,” he says.

Procuring a movie without having to pick up your disc and drop it off is convenient, and the cable companies are taking advantage. Video on demand is a huge revenue model for Shaw, Telus and Bell. You don’t really need to rent movies anymore. But judging from the increase in business for independent video stores like Leo’s Videos, many of us enjoy having a wide selection. “I personally believe that the biggest thing we can offer is the ability to help someone choose a new film… choose something different,” Bartel says.

Asked which title he would recommend for anyone on the hunt for something not-so-mainstream yet not too obscure, Bartel was quick with a suggestion: The Beaver. People are afraid of it because of Mel Gibson, but it has some of the best casting, acting, and pacing of any film this year.”

As for online choice, Canadians are as lacking in online choice as we are for the number of video stores. Options online and through video on demand are extremely limited, especially compared to that of the U.S. iTunes Canada only carries a fraction of the movies and TV shows that it serves up on a virtual silver platter for in the U.S. store. For Netflix, the disparity is even greater. Video on demand presents us with only a handful of titles.

Canadians are like the proverbial kid in the candy store. Except so much of the great candy is off-limits to us yet visible through the glass. Online availability is unlikely to change anytime soon, so those of us looking for some selection and depth in our movie choices can be thankful for stores like Leo’s Videos.


by Mark Stone

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