End credits not rolling yet for Alberta video store surviving streaming services, COVID-19 pandemic

·3 min read
Joe French took over as owner of Movieworld just over a year ago. He credits the video store's survival to greater competition among streaming services and nostalgia. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)
Joe French took over as owner of Movieworld just over a year ago. He credits the video store's survival to greater competition among streaming services and nostalgia. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)

A long time ago in a galaxy not so far, far away, people would visit their neighbourhood video store on a Friday evening, select several VHS tapes or DVDs from the shelves and rent them for their weekend entertainment.

The rise of Netflix and other streaming services in the 2010s sent the movie rental business crashing. But one video store is still standing.

"The reaction is almost always the same: [new customers] just take a look around and take it all in, and they can't believe that there's still a movie store," said Joe French, owner of Movieworld, located on South Park Drive in Stony Plain, Alta., a town about 35 kilometres west of Edmonton.

"It kills me every time. I love it."

Movieworld has been open for 40 years. French described the store as "pretty tough," outliving Blockbuster and Rogers Video, and surviving through the success of streaming services and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Netflix, at first, controlled the streaming market and became a tough competitor for video stores like Movieworld, French said.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC
Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

Blockbuster stores in Canada shut down in 2011 and now there is only one Blockbuster left in the world in Bend, Ore. Rogers closed its video stores in 2012.

Now, though, there are more streaming services that have created competition for Netflix, such as Crave and Disney Plus, and people must subscribe to certain platforms to watch certain content.

This has helped Movieworld because it sells all of the content, plus some obscure entertainment the streaming companies might not know of, French explained.

Nostalgia has likely been the key factor to the store's survival, however.

"There's nothing like a Friday or Saturday night, loading up the family, coming here, grabbing a pizza, picking out everyone's favourite movies, and just sitting down [at home] as a family and enjoying your favourite films," French said.

Some Movieworld customers have been visiting since the store opened. Now they're introducing their children and grandchildren to how people used to watch movies, which is "really, really fun," French said.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC
Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

"It's old school, which is nice. I like old school," said customer Lawrence Rowley.

Other customers, meanwhile, just don't want to stream movies. Edward Newman, a Movieworld customer since 1999, prefers getting out and going to the video store.

"I like the atmosphere. I like the people who work here, even the previous owner," Newman said. "I like it here."

'It's a dream job for me'

French, an avid movie fan and collector, would visit Movieworld almost daily. The previous owner, who ran the store for 18 years, noticed and eventually offered French to take over.

"It's a dream job for me just to own my own movie store," said French, who has owned the video store for just over a year.

Movieworld receives a shipment of new releases every Tuesday, but French adds about 10 to 20 classic movies to the store's inventory every day. If a movie hasn't rented for a couple of years, French will make space for something else that may become popular, he said.

Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC
Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC

When French is off the clock, he scours for titles to add to the store's collection through distributors and, sometimes, other movie collectors.

"I'm always looking to add new titles and nostalgia factor through the titles — stuff that a lot of people haven't seen since they were kids, where they walk by and see the cover and it's, 'Oh my God, I can't believe that movies here,'" he said.

If someone asks for a rare movie title, French will "go basically hunting for that one gem that I have to bring it in to the shop."

Colleen Dougherty visits Movieworld specifically for its collection.

"There are thousands of movies you can watch over and over again, but there are movies [here] that I've never seen — and I've watched all of them," Dougherty said.

French is also knowledgeable about movies and "knows exactly what I want," she added.

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