Northland's diminishing video stores: The end of an era?

By Scott SchmidleyA sign remained posted in the window at Video Vision on North Central Avenue. It stated that due to “rising costs, construction on I-35 and a poor economy,” the store would be closing.

On April 17, 2010, the video store went out of business.

Their collection of approximately 7,000 films will be sold and transferred to other branches, said store owner and Piedmont resident Brian Augustine. Their employees will be left to find work elsewhere.

Several months ago, the West Duluth Super One grocery store, a 50-second drive from Video Vision, installed a Redbox video-vending machine outside their store that rents new release DVDs for the price of a soda.

“The pie can only be divided so many ways,” Augustine said.

After owning Video Vision for 27 years, he acknowledged that the future of the video store market in Duluth is uncertain, and said Duluth residents probably don’t realize they are endangering neighborhood video stores when they rent from Redbox, but they are.

“I’ll be sad to see it go,” said Supervisor Bret Pederson, 27, on the day Video Vision closed its doors for good. “Brian’s been really good about customer service. Even I really liked renting here.”

Customers were renting videos from the store right up until the day of the store’s closing. Video Vision asked that returns be deposited into the drop box in the coming week.

Video Vision’s second location on the corner of Woodland Avenue and Norton Street in the Mount Royal strip mall remains open for business, though they are currently contending with a new Redbox at the Mount Royal grocery store, less than a block away.

Video Vision is not alone in their battle to preserve video store market share in Duluth. On Feb. 2, the parent company of Hollywood Video, Movie Gallery, Inc., filed voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, according to a statement released by the company.

During the restructuring phase they will be liquidating assets, namely Duluth’s Hollywood Video on the corner of Grand Avenue and North 46th Avenue West. The employees at Hollywood Video have not yet been notified by corporate when their store will be closing, they only know that it will be.

Several weeks ago a Redbox was installed at the Holiday gas station on Grand Avenue, four blocks away from the Hollywood Video.

In 1985, the Twin Ports Regional Directory provided consumers with their choice of 19 different Duluth video stores. By 2011, the number of stores will be dropping to six, possibly five (depending on Hollywood Video).

After Hollywood Video closes, there will be no video stores remaining in west Duluth, only the two Redboxes.

In east Duluth several months ago, the Walgreens on Superior Street also opened a Redbox, across the street from Mr. Movies.

Less than 200 feet away, Mr. Movies is working to remain profitable next to the new automated video retailer. Despite the market’s trend, store manager Scott Hovland remains confident in the reliability of his customers. “Most of our business is loyal, regular customers, about 70 percent or so,” he said.

Earl and Payton Sullivan of Duluth’s 8th Street Video agree, and are gaining some ground over Redbox in rentals of older titles like “The Godfather,” “Gone with the Wind” and “Back to the Future.”

According to Earl Sullivan, 8th Street Video customers are loyal to the neighborhood video store. “A lot of our business is regular. We try to know our customers here,” he said.

Big movie companies have taken a lot of their business, but according to Earl the big guys can’t offer everything. Aside from person-to-person transactions, 8th Street Video on East Ninth Street stays devoted to a more diverse range of products including coney dogs, ice cream cones and milkshakes to attract customers.

Earl’s son Payton, owner of 8th Street Video on North 47th Avenue East, is skeptical about the future of physical video rental. “The sad thing is, the video store is a piece of American life that is going to be gone one day, just like the drive-in movie,” he said.

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