Earlier this month, Blockbuster Video, once viewed as the evil empire by mom and pop video stores across the country, announced it would be closing its remaining brick-and-mortar locations. Crippled by subscription and online streaming services, Blockbuster’s share of the market had shrunk to 19% as it struggled to adapt to changing viewer habits and new trends in the rental industry. In the wake of Blockbuster’s death, small independent video stores across the country are moving forward while at the same time fighting to keep their own heads above water.
In a 2013 article for U.S. News & World Report, writer Danielle Kurtzleben highlighted the strategies of two indie rental stores – Scarecrow Video in Seattle and Potomac Video Center in Washington D.C. – struggling to survive. Despite stocking over 117,000 titles, Scarecrow has seen revenues drop by 40% over the last six years. Similarly, at Potomac, which has been in business for three decades, revenues have been declining annually. To help stave off extinction, these stores have looked to carve out niches within the market.
Outside of carrying X-rated films – a genre shunned by family-friendly Blockbuster – these independent stores have survived by knowing their customer base and catering to that audience. From British films to VHS tapes never transferred to DVD to titles not offered by streaming services, these stores aim to offer customers something unique. Additionally, Scarecrow has also added an espresso machine and sells vinyl records, books, and toys to pull customers into the store. Meanwhile, Potomac has began selling extra copies of films online to generate additional revenue.
Both stores are hoping that by appealing to an alternate crowd (and “to a sense of community”) they will avoid the same fate as Blockbuster. Whether they succeed or fail, their effort has certainly earned them two thumbs up.