What challenges do video stores in Vancouver face?

Vancouver video store changes business model to keep up with changing viewing habits

Shares of Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq:NFLX) plummeted after the company revealed in late April that it was losing subscribers for the first time in a decade.

However, the streaming giant’s business problems do not seem to alleviate the challenges facing Vancouver’s video stores.

“A lot more people just rely on streaming services because you don’t have to leave your house to do that,” says RJ Rudd, owner of Video Cat at 3541 Cambie Street, where a sandwich board invites customers with puns and advertising titles. Like it catsablanca and O brother, where Art Meow?

After working in the rental store under the previous Black Dog Video banner, Rudd bought the outlet in September 2020 after talks began with the previous owner before the pandemic unfolded.

“We didn’t really know how long or how much this would affect society and retail, so I took the chance that maybe it would be shorter than it was,” he said. “There were thoughts that it would just be over in the fall or whatever. Obviously it didn’t work out that way, so here we are two years later.”

Rudd estimates that the number of visitors entering Video Cat has decreased by about 70 percent since the pandemic, as even more people have become familiar with streaming services for home entertainment.

And Black Dog’s Commercial Drive location is now set to close in June after owner Darren Gay revealed in an April blog post that rising costs mean it’s “not feasible to stay open any longer. We lost the war to what I call the ‘ease of mediocrity’ that flows.”

With online streaming establishing itself as most viewers’ favorite way to watch movies at home, Rudd had to shift the focus of his own business.

“I saw that people were more into buying movies than renting, so I devoted more of the retail space to sales, and I did some special events – sales events – where I sell a variety of things, not just movies,” he said.

Toys, records and Nintendo products are up for grabs from those sales, while customers can still walk in and find a mix of movies ranging from Z-grade horror movies Wedding Slashers to Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon

But taking on those online streaming giants also prompted Rudd to devote more of the company to online sales, specializing in rare titles that could fetch hundreds of dollars from cinephiles and collectors across North America.

A copy of a collaboration between the Backstreet Boys and animated children’s series Arthur recently brought him $120. It came into Rudd’s possession after a customer came in and poured it (a common practice in the store).

“I had an eBay [Inc. (Nasdaq:EBAY)] company. It was just something personal that I’ve been working on for years,” he recalls, adding that Video Cat probably wouldn’t be around if it hadn’t gone out of his way to curate rare titles and sell them online. “That was always my plan when I took over — it was to record that.”

torton@biv.com

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