The recent closure of Rogers Video in Whitehorse raises the question: do movie stores have a future, as consumers switch from renting DVDs to downloading the latest film?
So far, the answer from Whitehorse’s remaining stores is a resounding yes.
“Thankfully Northwestel doesn’t have unlimited Internet,” said Stephen Qwok, owner of 38 Famous Video, with a chuckle.
Qwok has seen rentals at his Riverdale store surge since Rogers closed its doors in mid-April. He reckons business is now “double,” with many new customers.
“Before, I only had maybe one new customer a week,” said Qwok. “Now I have new customers every day. It’s not just from Riverdale, it’s from all over the place.”
The fan club for Yukon’s telecommunications monopoly has at least one other member: Cory Adams, owner of Coyote Video. The Porter Creek store hasn’t seen as abrupt an increase in business - perhaps because of his less-central location - but rental volume remains “healthy,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t want to drive all the way up here,” said Adams. “It’s Porter Creek, Crestview and Takhini.”
Perhaps Whitehorse simply wasn’t big enough for three movie stores. Rogers’ closure also fits into the national chain’s plans to get out of the video store business and focus on offering video-on-demand through its cable business.
In December, the chain announced it would close 40 per cent of its stores across Canada. In April, as the Whitehorse store prepared to close, so did 90 other similar stores across the country. It’s keeping 93 stores stocked with movies and video games, according to a report by Canadian Press.
When 38 Famous Video opened 22 years ago, it dealt with VHS tapes, rather than Blu-Ray discs. It’s one of Canada’s oldest non-franchised movie stores to be held by the same owner, said Qwok.
Business slumped when Rogers opened a decade ago. But by then, he had diversified his business holdings by buying a bowling alley in the same strip mall. He’s since also opened a cold beer and wine store and pub.
And the movie store’s declining rentals were offset by sales in pop, candy and newspapers. “Basically, half my store is a convenience store,” said Qwok.
In some cases, customers may hit up all three stores in an evening, beginning with an evening of bowling, then buying beer and candy before heading home.
Customer loyalty also helps. Some Rogers clients had horror stories of having collection agencies calling them, due to mix-ups about whether rentals had been returned.
Qwok doesn’t follow regimented rules. He’s let local customers send their kid to pick up a movie, with the plan to pay for it tomorrow.
“With a franchise, you have to follow everything by the book. The headquarters controls everything,” he said. “With us, everything is negotiable.”
Adams, whose store opened nine years ago, also sees a future in local movie stores, even in markets with cheaper Internet than here. He’s heard of a Toronto store that does booming business in renting high-definition Blu-Ray discs.
“No matter what, you can’t download Blu-Ray. And that’s where my market’s going,” said Adams. “Half my wall is Blu-Ray already.”
Also, not everyone is comfortable with renting a movie online yet. “I reckon you’ve got a good 10 years left, even if you’re down south,” said Adams. “Because you still have a certain generation that doesn’t want to do online.”
Video game enthusiasts also help prop up Coyote’s business. Today’s gamers often use online services like Steam to play online. But that only works with an Internet connection -Â something Whitehorse residents can’t always count on.
“It’s like, ‘This is useless, I’d rather buy the hard copy,’” said Adams.
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