Netflix (hasn’t completely) killed the video store, particularly in Nevada County
When the last mega-video store in town, Blockbuster, closed its doors in 2013, it appeared Nevada County was following a nationwide trend: the extinction of video rentals as a viable business model.
Four years later, however, the community still supports two independent video stores: Video Library, in Grass Valley, and Nevada City Video. Each have a loyal clientele who believe in supporting small local businesses, and quirky selections that add to the old-school allure of browsing the stacks in the hopes of discovering a cinematic treasure.
Nevada City Video has everything from the newest releases to cult classics. “Wonder Woman” or “Baby Driver”? They’ve got that. “Eraserhead” or “What’s Up, Tiger Lily”? They’ve got those, too. Categories include newest releases, new and “just off new,” as well as “new to the store” and genres including Westerns, science fiction, mystery and suspense, TV shows, and art house/independent/international.
“I have been a lifelong fan of movies,” said Debbie Atwell-Tavares, who purchased the store with her mother in 2010.
“The previous owner, this was just a business investment for him,” she said. “He didn’t even have the Oscar winners.”
Atwell-Tavares brought in $10,000 in new product, she said, adding, “People noticed and came in.”
Not surprisingly, she said, the customer base has changed over the years.
“We do have a lot of young people, but not as many as I used to,” Atwell-Tavares said.
“We used to have the whole market — we were the only game in town,” she said. “Video has gone from the main source of entertainment to being a supplement — what Netflix or Showtime doesn’t carry.”
CUSTOMERS APPRECIATE PERSONAL TOUCH
Atwell-Tavares struggles with issues brought on by the small size of her store, with distributors reluctant to sell her multiple copies of titles. Some titles, she says, are not even being released on DVD.
On a more local level, the extended closure of the Magic Theatre across the street, which is being expanded and remodeled into the Onyx, has had a significant negative impact on Nevada City Video’s business, Atwell-Tavares said.
“We lost the foot traffic, and the awareness of the indie films that would play there,” she said. “A lot of times, people would come out pumped about the movie they just saw, and come over and rent another one (here).”
Atwell-Tavares stresses her strong selection of foreign films and documentaries, as well as British crime dramas. She works to hand-select the movies she thinks Nevada City Video’s customers will want to see — or should see. And that element definitely is a draw.
“This is a really well-curated store,” said “devoted” customer Michael Katz. “Debbie really knows her stuff. She knows my taste and makes suggestions, she keeps track of what’s coming in.”
Katz acknowledges that he has lousy internet, which is one reason he rents videos. But, he said, he really values the boutique feel of Nevada City Video.
“I hear about people who spend a ton of time on Netflix hoping to find something to watch,” Katz said, adding that the first thing he looks for are the DVDs starred by Atwell-Tavares. Literally — she puts little stars on the movies she finds particularly appealing.
“I know I’m not always going to agree (with her), but I’m ahead of the game (that way),” Katz said.
“A store like this is clearly an endangered species,” he said. “The odds are against it, economically. I make a point of continuing to come here.”
Fellow customer Jim Borelli agreed, saying, “I like small business and I want to support small business — I want people to be able to stay in business.”
Borelli says he has no interest in committing financially to a service like Netflix, adding, “I like to come in and look at the titles and read the descriptions.”
Video Library cultivates social scene
Grass Valley’s Video Library has a much larger footprint than Nevada City Video. But it shares a similar ethos and credits its continued survival to a commitment to customer service.
Jack Garrett bought the store — which back then was downtown in the Pioneer Village shopping center — on April 1, 1985, resurrecting a business that had lost its customer base.
Manager Darcie Gerbaud remembers that they used to keep all the inventory behind the counter which, in that former bank space, meant stashing the titles in the vault.
Gerbaud started working for Garrett in 1987, when she was 16. She went away to college, she said, but “kept coming back.”
Back in the day, Gerbaud said, there were 15 video stores in Nevada County.
Garrett opened a second location on East Main Street and Dorsey Drive; when that location didn’t work out, he consolidated the two stores, moving to his current location in 1990. In 1996, he opened a store in South Lake Tahoe, which stayed open for 20 years.
“That was the heyday, the 1990s and 2000s,” Gerbaud said,
“We couldn’t go wrong,” Garrett agreed. “And then the hammer fell.”
Blockbuster hurt the independent video stores because they dealt in volume, he said.
“They changed the whole way the video business was done,” Garrett said. “Prior to that, video stores were small operations. More than three copies of a title was a lot. They would have 20 copies.”
The advent of Netflix and the ability of customers to buy titles cheaply through Amazon also hurt. Red Box’s $1 rentals devalued the product, Gerbaud said, even though its inventory is extremely limited and its DVDs are poorly maintained.
The effect of all these competitors? According to Garrett, there used to be 25,000 video stores in the United States; now, probably 2,500 exist, at most.
Gerbaud said Video Library survived by “getting real trim.”
“We basically never gave up; we just adapted,” she said.
A huge portion of the business now is sales, Gerbaud said. Video Library even carries a selection of VHS tapes for which, she said, there still is a market. TV shows now are the store’s best rentals, because people like to binge-watch their favorite series.
“We are in a really unique market, as far as our customer base,” Gerbaud said. “We run a good business, but we wouldn’t make it somewhere else.”
Part of the reason for that is an aging generation that doesn’t want to be bothered with upgrading their technology. And Nevada County’s lack of consistent internet service.
“There’s a lot of people out there in them there hills who can’t get good streaming,” Gerbaud said.
Also, she said, “People here still like to go out and shop. We have customers whose kids have grown up and they’re still coming here. … We’re lucky. Our customers like to interact with us and with each other. It’s a social scene on weekend nights.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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