Video's last stand in Clark County

As competiton has vanished, Hazel Dell movie rental business has seen fortunes improve

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

Published:

 

Video Connections

What: One of Clark County’s last video rental stores.

Employees: 5

Where: 6400 A N.E. Highway 99, Vancouver.

Owner: Gene Morley

Manager: Anthony Curry

Web: www.lastvideostor...

Has the Internet killed the video rental business? One Hazel Dell company hopes the answer to that question is "no."

When Video Connections opened 32 years ago, it was one of the first stores to see viewing movies at home as a moneymaker. And now, after the bankruptcies of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, it's one of the last storefronts in Clark County where people can head inside to browse the shelves before taking a movie home.

Sure, more people are watching Netflix than ever. Many are renting from Redbox kiosks. And according to market research firm IBIS World, video rentals have dropped an average of 13.7 percent each year since 2008.

"But we're finding ways to make it work," said Anthony Curry, manager of Video Connections, which — in a nod to its struggling industry — has set up a website at www.lastvideostore.com.

Curry acknowledges that Video Connections is not actually the last of its kind — he's aware of several mainstream rental stores in Portland, one in Battle Ground and a scattering that specialize in adult movies around the region. But most of the competition is now gone.

It turns out that the death of other rental stores and the rise of Netflix has been good for business over the past year, Curry said.

"We've been incredibly busy the past couple of months," he said.

Some of that recent success is because people who want to browse the shelves don't have many other options.

"When the Blockbuster a little north of us went out of business, they went out of their way to find out about our store, see if we'd be a good alternative for their customers, and then refer customers to us," Curry said.

But most Video Connections renters are longtime customers who also do business with Netflix or Redbox, but who've found that the local store has options they can't find elsewhere, he said.

Several major studios make DVDs and Blu-ray discs available to bricks-and-mortar rental shops a full month before movies can be streamed or found at Redbox. So people eager to see the latest movies make up a substantial share of Video Connections' regulars, Curry said.

Older movies, especially independent art house films, draw another subset of renters.

"We have a lot of customers come in because they can't find those older titles on Netflix," he said.

"Then there are people who like talking to people in the store," Curry said. "They like asking, 'Is this good, or not?'"

Another niche that Video Connections serves: People in search of X-rated fare. The store tries to keep its adult video section discrete so other renters are not made uncomfortable by the films it rents, Curry said.

"We don't advertise it, we try to keep things family friendly," he said. "It's small and well-hidden in the back of the store. But we've been working to offer more for people looking for those videos."

In addition to adding more adult videos, the store is also beefing up its collection of Blu-ray discs in response to customer demand. But for the most part, Video Connections is focused on stability, not on change, Curry said.

The shop's previous longtime manager left about a year ago, and Curry was hired to take his place. The transition was challenging at times as the new manager learned the ropes of the business, Curry said.

"The past year has been about creating consistency in the store," Curry said. "We're here to connect customers with the movies they want to see."

Owner Gene Morley, who founded the company 32 years ago, manages Video Connections' finances, but has not been involved on a day-to-day basis in recent months as he's cared for his wife at home. He declined to discuss financial specifics of the business, but did say that rentals are up at least 10 percent in recent months.

"Our first big hit was cable," Morley said. "When it came in, that took a lot of wind out of our sails. Then suddenly there was a store on every corner. The big guys came into it. Then everyone fell away The business is stronger than it has been in quite a while, because there's nobody left."