Op-Ed: Neighbourhood video rental store thrives in digital era Special
When I moved to Toronto almost four years ago, I had my pick of three stores to rent movies from in my neighbourhood: Blockbuster, Videoflicks and Plaza Video.
disappeared within the first year, and in June, Plaza Video followed suit, leaving only one store, arguably the best of the three, left standing.
In an age where digital is rapidly becoming king, and more and more of the traditional is being replaced with people looking to the speed and convenience of technology for books, movies and TV shows, Videoflicks
, one of the city’s oldest independent video rental stores, has yet to feel the burn—and is doing surprisingly better than ever.
“Five years ago, we thought we had five years left in the business, with what everyone was saying about where technology was going, but now we think we probably have at least another five years,” Steve Cohen, who owns the store along with partner Joe Carlino, told Digital Journal.
Established in Northern Toronto in 1981, unlike the video rental stores described in a May Toronto CityNews article
—all suffering at the hands of streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu—Videoflicks is still very much alive. The recipe? Cohen said he believes it has a lot to do with their strong focus on customer service, film expertise and family—which also includes the four-legged variety.
“I guess you become more of a niche business, for the people who don’t want to get their stuff digitally. We’ve been here for 30 years. We have long-term clients,” he said. “They enjoy the personal aspects of the store, we know their tastes, and when they come in, they literally say to us, ‘Okay, what should I watch tonight?’—which they’re not going to get, getting their movies digitally, or online.”
In addition to a friendly, hands-on approach, Videoflicks also boasts a tremendous video library, including a large collection of older, harder to find films. And with an ongoing supply of free popcorn available to their customers, as well as a generous bowl of dog treats at the counter, the store is a favourite with children and dogs alike.
“All the dogs around the area, they know which stores give out cookies, and we have a huge dog bowl up on the counter filled with cookies. So people tell us, ‘Like two blocks away, my dog starts dragging me to Videoflicks,’” Cohen laughed. “So you know, the kids come for the popcorn, the dogs come for the cookies. We’ve got some draw there.”
Describing the store as predominantly neighbourhood-centred, Cohen noted they also have a client-base that reaches beyond city limits, offering those passing through Toronto full week package deals, where they can take away seven movies, and return the next week for seven more.
But even with a presently thriving business and feelings of optimism about the future, Cohen said when the time does come, Videoflicks is just not digitally compatible.
“There’s not a lot we could do to really adapt, we can’t sort of turn ourselves digital. I think it may start shrinking at some point; it just depends on what your costs are, and whether you’ve lessened your staff,” he said. “You keep going as long as you can, but we can’t really change what we do, we can’t sort of change the store and go digital, it doesn’t really work that way.”
Unfortunately, for people like me, who appreciate the kind of services Cohen and Carlino offer, five years is not too far off, and the possibility of the complete loss of a familiar pastime is a little too close for comfort.
While there will always be traditionalists who genuinely do not want to see the unique, interactive and unmistakably human touch of stores like Videoflicks become a thing of the past, one can only hope that they won’t too soon be outnumbered by those who would rather sit at home, or on the subway, simply clicking a cold, hard button.