Local video stores thrive, refute national trend

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Sally Bejarano helps stock the shelves of I Luv Video with new movies for rent. The store has managed to stay afloat in the Netflix and Hulu era through offering locals a wide variety of lesser-known films that online video companies lack.

Photo Credit: Andrea Macias-Jimenez | Daily Texan Staff

With Blockbuster filing for bankruptcy last year and closing about 900 of its stores, it may come as a surprise that local video stores such as Vulcan Video and Waterloo Records & Video are still able to keep in business.

“Nationally, the trend is for brick and mortar stores to close,” said Vulcan Video north manager Greg Nance. “We’re still hanging in there.”

And with more and more consumers opting to join Netflix, Nance can only hope that people will continue to do their business with him.

Advertising senior Laine Higgins enjoys browsing the selection at Vulcan and talking with the staff about the recent rental he just finished. But after joining Netflix five months ago, Higgins found himself frequenting Vulcan Video less and less.

“The guys at the store thought I went out of town for awhile,” Higgins said. “If I were ever to go to Vulcan while I had the account, it was because it was so much faster than waiting for a DVD in the mail.”

Last week, Netflix increased the price of its streaming plus DVD by mail plan from $9.99 to $15.98, a 60-percent increase. Consumers can now choose between two plans. One allows them to stream both a selection of movies online and keep one DVD (or more) at a time. The other plan allows customers to just stream Netflix’s online movie library. The raise in price has many consumers like Higgins dropping the DVD portion of their plans.

“It is going to cost about the same to go back to Vulcan, which is much more convenient than waiting on DVDs in the mail,” Higgins said.

Waterloo Records manager Kelsey Wickliffe disagrees that locality is the key to video store success. “I’d like to think there are some people that just like to support local,” Wickliffe said. “It seems less and less these days.”

But radio-television-film professor Tom Schatz disagrees. He said he believes Vulcan has managed to survive due to its ability to understand the Austin film community.

“The Austin art scene is intense,” Schatz said. “But Vulcan’s selection has been steadily growing, and it is identifying areas that Netflix is not touching.”

Computer science senior Alex Ingraham opts to rent from Vulcan when he wants to watch a foreign film or movie that Netflix doesn’t have.

“They have an interesting collection of bizarre VHS films that never got made into DVDs,” Ingraham said. “A lot of them were made in Austin, and it’s fun to look through them.”

Those who choose to downgrade to the streaming option on Netflix may notice a thinner library. Starz, a premium cable network, will pull its content from Netflix in March due to a disagreement over its contract.

According to Wickliffe, it is Waterloo’s wide selection that has customers choosing their store over Netflix. “We have things in stock that simply aren’t available on Netflix,” Wickliffe said. “For the avid moviegoer, we are still a good option.”

But Wickliffe said that Waterloo’s DVD sales are slowly declining. “It’s the sale of used merchandise that really keeps us afloat,” Wickliffe said. “But even used DVD prices continue to go down and down and down.”
Schatz said that DVDs are becoming obsolete just as VHS did before it. He worries that local video stores will fail to make the changes necessary to adapt to new technology.

A variety of other options are drawing consumers away from video rental stores. Hulu Plus boasts a partnership with the Criterion Collection, a selection of classic films. Another option, video on demand, allows cable customers to order new releases from their television. Redbox has also proven to be a convenient option. Located in front busy stores, customers can rent new releases by the day.

But for now, Schatz commends Vulcan on its success. “It’s a mom-and-pop operation that’s local and consumer friendly,” Schatz said. “There’s value there.”

No one really knows what the future has in store for the movie rental business, but Nance believes there will always be people who prefer to rent.

“As long as Austin will keep supporting us,” Nance said, “we will stay in business.”

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Local video stores buck national trend