The movie rental store lives, and it’s not going anywhere | CBC News

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It may be a business model from a bygone era, but moviegoers can still physically walk the aisles of fantastic movies at one of the last movie rental stores in Ottawa.

Tucked away in a small, unassuming strip mall on Kilborn Avenue in Ottawa’s southern tip, movie rental aficionados with a keen eye will find Movies n’ Stuff.

The interior is like taking a step back in time: 12,000 movie titles (mostly DVDs) are stacked along the walls. A large figure of Darth Vader looms over patrons as they browse. There’s a cardboard cutout of Uma Thurman from Kill Bill.

As you do your rental shopping, you can buy some candy and microwave popcorn.

It’s a business that Peter Thompson runs with pride. He inherited the store from his parents five years ago, who ran it for 30 years before that.

Thompson, who previously worked in sales, nearly shut it down.

“There was a good reaction from people around here saying ‘Look, don’t do it, don’t do it. You know what you’re doing. Trust us, you can do it,'” he said.

“My wife and I talked about it and decided to do it, and it was a good decision.”

In a world of streaming and free content online, most customers have abandoned in-person visits to video rental stores. Many have stopped coming in the last 15 years, Thompson said.

‘How to go to the library’

Still, there are enough loyal customers, about a couple hundred a week, coming through the door to keep Movies n’ Stuff stable.

“It’s like going to the library and looking at the shelves and enjoying the books that way,” said Phoebe Gowdy, who has been renting at the store for the past 10 years. “We enjoy the movies that way and we get some really good advice here.”

The store has more than 12,000 rental titles on its shelves. There are 40,000 more that Thompson has in storage. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

“Actually, we don’t have to spend a lot of time browsing because he knows what we like.”

Thompson said it’s that personal touch that keeps people coming back. That, and not everyone enjoys paying for multiple subscription services that are rising in cost.

There is also a bit of hustle involved. Thompson works with a distributor to stock his shelves with the latest or rarest releases, the key to keeping up with the competition, he said.

“At night, I usually lie in bed and scroll. ‘OK, what are the great foreign movies? What are the good foreign movies? What are the unknown foreign movies? Unknown dramas outside of Ireland, unknown dramas out of Britain?'”

“I’ll search until I find them.”

No fallout for video rental stores

Thompson isn’t the only one keeping the nearly forgotten tradition alive. Glebe Video International on Bank Street also offers 18,000 movie titles from a less conventional location: a church basement.

But don’t call it a comeback, according to Ottawa-based film critic Di Golding.

“I don’t think the video store will ever go back to the way it was and maybe that’s okay. It’s like a perfect moment in time. It’s a very cultural thing,” he said.

“It’s a very friendly place to come and browse,” says Phoebe Gowdy, a customer of the store for the past 10 years. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Golding, who worked at Elgin Video that went out of business nearly 10 years ago, believes streaming services have cemented the end of in-person rentals.

“There aren’t many places you can go where you can just hang out… and then you can just leave and you haven’t done anything, but your life has just changed or opened up a bit since being around the movie experience. itself,” she said.

“We don’t have that anymore. You know, I find that very sad.”

While Thompson doesn’t expect a resurgence in video rental places either, he said he’s grateful to his neighbors who come to talk and rent movies.

“There are some nights where it weighs on you, right? You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Okay. This is a model. It’s not going to explode. You’re not going to be any busier,'” Thompson said.

“Then there are other moments in which I feel very proud.”

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