A video store in Tucson bucks the Netflix tide

Video rental stores are dead.

We hear it all the time. With the increasing popularity of mail-rental and movie-streaming services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, many believe driving to video stores is an unnecessary inconvenience.

So what accounts for the success of Casa Video, a large, independent video store near the corner of Speedway Blvd. and Country Club Road in Tucson?

The owner, Gala Mellenberndt, believes there is still room for video stores like hers in our internet-centric world. “I think there will always be a demand for video stores, but rigidity has been and will continue to be the downfall of a lot of these stores,” Mellenberndt said.

casa“We have all the stuff every good video rental store has: a big selection, lots of obscure stuff, and a knowledgeable staff,” said Chris Fuller, an employee at Casa Video. “But we also have free popcorn every day for all our customers, a large selection of video games available to rent and a mail-in rental service.”

How does a video store stay afloat in a world filled with more convenient alternatives? That’s the question that video store owners everywhere have been asking themselves, especially after the virtual disappearance of Bockbuster, which once had 9,000 stores but whose parent company, Dish Network Corp. said it is closing the few hundreds that remain scattered around the country as of late last year,

Yet some independent video store owners are finding ways to keep up with their online competition.

“I think the reason that Blockbuster has pretty much failed is because it is, or I suppose was, a large chain,” Mellenberndt said. “They hire anyone who steps through their door that will accept minimum wage. They got rid of all but the most essential old movies. They completely stopped renting out VHS tapes, and because of these things, they couldn’t tap into the sort of niche audience that independent video stores have.”

Blockbuster closed the last of its retail locations and ceased its DVD distribution operations in January. Blockbuster’s only remaining operations are Blockbuster @Home, a Dish Network Corp. exclusive program that includes live movie channels and movie streaming, and Blockbuster on Demand, a movie streaming service operated by Blockbuster itself.

Mellenberndt also believes that the same factors that led to Blockbuster’s downfall prevent new video stores from opening in the U.S.

“If a new independent video store opened today, I don’t think it would have any chance at success,” Mellenberndt said. “The large collection that keeps people coming back to video stores just wouldn’t be there. Casa Video has over 100,000 different movies in stock. We have new movies, old movies, obscure movies, foreign films, documentaries; some people like to say we have everything. Unless you’ve been a movie collector your whole life, I can’t see any way that your stock could come close to that.”

The customers agree with Mellenberndt. “You can’t get the movies you get here anywhere else,” said movie buff Phillip Green. “I use Netflix because it’s easy and fast, but they just don’t have everything I want. A video store like this, they have it all. Independent films are notoriously difficult to find on Netflix and they never show up in that Redbox garbage, but they’re all over the place in here.”

Some notable rare entries in Casa Video’s library include “The Swamp Thing,” “The Alley Cats,” and “Destroy All Monsters.” Additionally the store has hundreds of foreign films and documentaries, many in obscure niches.

“Browsing through an online selection doesn’t have the same attraction as looking through physical media in a store designed specifically so that you can do that,” Mellenberndt said. “The thrill of discovery you get when you see something you saw 20 years ago but you had completely forgotten about is something that Netflix can’t emulate.”

Mellenberndt is less confident about the long-term future of video stores, though. Netflix is famously aggressive and innovative.

“If Netflix can find an effective way to emulate that feeling, I don’t know if video stores will be around forever,” Mellenberndt said. “It might take something like virtual reality, but if they find a way, independent video stores could come to an end.”

Meanwhile, Casa Video continues to find success in Tucson with between 200 and 300 in-store customers every day, and many more online visitors.

“Video rentals are certainly a niche market, and as that market becomes smaller, our store faces challenges,” Mellenberndt said. “We might not be around forever, but we’re here now and we’re not planning on leaving anytime soon.”

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