Listen to Austin 360 Radio

While national chains struggle, local video stores say they're here to stay

Gary Dinges
gdinges@statesman.com
Chuck Lokey, who owns Encore Records, Video & Apparel on Anderson Lane, says his shop has switched its focus because its 'strength is in music these days.' Though there are still movies available to rent or buy, Lokey says, 'We've backed off video big time.'

Amazon. Netflix. Redbox.

They're enough to make video store owners reach for a bottle of antacids.

But while the big movie rental chains, in particular, are hurting, several locally owned video stores say they're doing just fine. Some have made tweaks to stay profitable, while others are sticking with business models that have served them well for decades.

At Encore Records, Video & Apparel on West Anderson Lane, you'll still find plenty of flicks available to rent or purchase, but the store has switched its focus to music. Video is, in many cases, viewed as a loss leader.

"We've backed off video big time," owner Chuck Lokey said. "We don't buy as many videos as we used to. Our strength is in music these days."

Lokey believes Netflix and Redbox, in particular, have hurt the movie industry as a whole.

Redbox, which has 27,000 kiosks nationwide, offers an assortment of recent releases for $1 a day.

Netflix, meanwhile, streams unlimited movies and TV episodes for $7.99 per month. It also offers DVDs via the mail for an additional charge.

"What's happened is the perceived value of video has plummeted," Lokey said. "I really love film, and I hope it doesn't go away."

Video's still king at Vulcan Video, which has locations on West 29th Street and West Elizabeth Street near South Congress Avenue.

"Even though everyone says video stores are on the outs, we're still open," Assistant Manager Bryan Connolly said. "It's kind of hard to pinpoint why that is."

Figures from the Entertainment Merchants Association show the number of rentals that occur in brick-and-mortar video stores dropped from 91 percent in 2004 to around 40 percent in 2010.

By 2014, the association predicts that number could fall as low as 24 percent.

Hollywood Video is history, thanks in large part to those decreases. And Blockbuster, which had almost 5,000 stores at its peak, could slim down to just 500 locations nationwide under a plan floated earlier this year by its new owner, Dish Network.

In Austin, only two Blockbusters would remain, at 2410 E. Riverside Drive and 2110 W. Slaughter Lane. That's the same number of locations as Vulcan and another local mainstay, I Luv Video.

"If there's an option available, I try to stay local, for sure," said Cordelia Stough, who spent part of Friday shopping and eating on a stretch of Guadalupe Street that includes I Luv Video as well as locally owned Spider House, Toy Joy and Ruby's Barbecue.

That "Buy Austin" mentality, Connolly feels, has been one key to Vulcan's success.

"Some of our customers tell us they have Netflix," he said, "but they still want to support local businesses, too."

The store also has a large selection of VHS tapes, something that's become increasingly hard to find. The collection, he claims, draws videophiles from across Central Texas.

"I'm still putting out 10 VHS movies a week," Connolly said. "My goal is to get every movie ever made."

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987