But abandoned Blockbusters lie in strip mall graves
// Colin Spensley

Video rental store closures have become increasing more frequent in the last few years. Canadian-owned Rogers Video is noticeably struggling, with various locations in Richmond, North Vancouver, Surrey, and Whistler all shutting down in the past year. This August, after seeking bankruptcy protection only months before, Blockbuster threw in the towel and closed all remaining Canadian stores. Even local companies have been affected: Main St.’s Happy Bats Cinema shut its doors for the last time on Mar. 25, 2011 due to rising rent and a drop in rental demand.

Fans of cinema must now turn to smaller independent stores which specialize in niche films, or to HMV, which has recently converted more than half its stock to cinema and video games. It’s unclear, however, whether or not these two specialties are enough to save a market that once dominated home entertainment for the past twenty-odd years.

As consumers look more and more towards an online marketplace for shopping and entertainment purposes, many local Vancouver businesses in the music and video market have had to either scale down or close completely. Iconic Kitsilano movie store Videomatica shocked the public in May of 2011 by announcing they would be closing that summer.

Videomatica had reached a cult status similar to that of the movies they rented out for almost 28 years at their location on West 4th Ave. "More foreign films than in New York or Los Angeles," Jodie Foster, one of Videomatica’s many celebrity guests, was quoted as saying on the store’s website. The Videomatica store on West 4th Ave. was as much a part of the community was it was a retail store. Sadly, Videomatica locked its doors and taped up the drop-off slot for the last time on Nov. 9, 2011.

However, all hope is not lost for Videomatica and fans of obscure titles like I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle. In an effort to change with the times, Videomatica has reduced its stock to sales only and moved in with fellow media legend Zulu Records with business beginning on Nov. 13.

The two stores have shared the same block of West 4th for approximately 20 years. Although Videomatica will occupy only a third of one side of Zulu’s massive storefront, they will still continue to provide quality DVD and Blu-Ray films for sale.

The destiny of the rest of Videomatica’s huge collection of VHS tapes and DVDs is still up in the air. Videomatica has been accepting donations in order to send titles to one or more yetto- be-determined universities. They accept any dollar amount, but for $25, cinephiles can select a specific title to save.

Following the model of many large retail chain closures in the last few years, HMV, Canada’s largest DVD and Blu-Ray retailer announced the closure of its flagship store on the corner of Robson and Burrard early November.

“The last thing that we want to do is leave Vancouver’s downtown … but a store of that magnitude unfortunately does not fit into our long-term real estate strategy,” explains Nick Williams, President of HMV, in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. The colossal 50,000 square foot, three-story mega-store couldn’t keep up with the times, or the staggering $100,000 monthly rent.

While larger companies flounder, a few small local businesses are looking to change the way people view a movie rental store. Black Dog Video maintains two successful locations: one on Commercial Drive, and another on Cambie Street. They have been quite successful in overcoming the digital media hump, staying ahead of the game with a few clever ideas.

Manager Jessica Delisle explains, “We have a sense of community in our store. It’s kind of like a bar, people come in and hang out and never leave. People get something social out of it.” Black Dog shows a movie every Wednesday after their Cambie store closes at 10pm as part of a series called Unthank Cinema.

Local video stores like Cinephile, Black Dog, and Videomatica have managed to stay in business throughout the various technological renewals of music and film. By maintaining a strong stock they are still able to fill a niche market: “We have a huge cult, horror, and foreign film selection,” says Delisle. “We have music documentaries and rare films you could just never find at Blockbuster.”

Indeed, the stock of these smaller video stores often dwarfs their counterparts. It’s not always enough, though: Videomatica’s full collection was five times as large as the 7,000 titles offered by Netflix. If all goes well, their full rental archive will live on in the hands of academics.

// Colin Spensley, Writer
// Illustration by Stefan Tosheff

Enjoy it? Share this on Facebook


© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: