The Silver Screen Video Store

Don Flinn has owned Silver Screen Video for 25 years, and the store features over 10,000 DVD's for sale in addition to VHS tapes. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

Don Flinn has owned Silver Screen Video for 25 years, and the store features over 10,000 DVD’s for sale in addition to VHS tapes. (Michael Arellano/Emerald)

By Sophia June for the Daily Emerald December 5, 2013

In a way, Silver Screen Video is representative of the current landscape of video rental stores. There are shelves of $1 video cassettes for sale and more than 10,000 DVDs — some of which haven’t been rented in years.

The store, located on the corner of 24th Avenue and Agate Street, was one of Eugene’s first video rental places, and just may be its last. The small store opened 25 years ago and is still surviving, despite the popularity of instant stream.

But first, let’s rewind.

It’s 1972. VCRs have just been introduced, and in due time, the first ever video rental stores were up and running.  The first Blockbuster opened in Dallas on Oct. 26, 1985 — the same day that Michael J. Fox first time-traveled in “Back To The Future.” Three years later, Blockbuster had more than 500 stores and was the top video retailer in the United States.

Hit the fast forward button to 2003, when Blockbuster began to lose its market value. Coincidentally, this is the same year that DVD rentals first surpassed cassette rentals. By 2005, 75 percent of the video rental giant’s market value was lost. That same year, Netflix offered itself to Blockbuster for a mere $50 million. In a decision upper management would come to regret, Blockbuster said no.

Pause at 2013.

On Sept. 23, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy with $930 million in debt. On Nov. 9, at 11 p.m., in Hawaii, the last Blockbuster movie ever was rented — ironically, the Seth Rogen comedy titled ‘This Is The End.”

UO students recently witnessed the closing of the Blockbuster on the corner of 18th Avenue and Willamette Street. The store’s remaining DVDs were sold at a sidewalk sale in front of the Duck Store. But do students even care that video rental stores are getting Blockbusted? Not when they have a virtual video store at their fingertips,thanks to the generosity of their roommate’s parents through various streaming services.

So, with Blockbuster gone, will all video rental stores be doomed to live on only in the lists of things we’ll tell our kids about that no longer exist, like “Arthur” or calling 4-1-1?

Don Flinn doesn’t think so. Silver Screen has a few things going for it that Blockbuster did not. For one, Flinn owns the building, so he doesn’t have to pay rent.

“Blockbuster was way too big for the building. They spent way too much on rent. It’s kind of a misnomer that I’m really making money with this. I could rent the building for more,” Flinn said.

Flinn bought the store eight years ago when the original owner sold it because of declining business. Today, Flinn says Silver Screen is doing alright and has experienced an increase in customers since Eugene’s last Blockbuster store shuttered. Flinn believes the store will still be in business even 10 years in the future.

“The point is that people like to browse, like in bookstores. It’s not that hard to run, so I suspect it will keep going,” Flinn said.

Senior Riley Stevenson used to rent from Silver Screen when she lived near it.

“Silver Screen is the last place in Eugene you can rent a movie the old-fashioned way,” Stevenson said. “I like the quirkiness of it. I don’t want to go to Redbox because I don’t like the selection and I’m forgetful.”

Blockbuster was notorious for a strict adherence to its late fees policy in the early and mid-2000s — late fees accounted for $800 million, or 16 percent of the video rental behemoth’s revenue, in 2000. By 2010, that figure plummeted to $134 million. Some of that drop-off may be attributed by a move the company made to compete with the growing popularity of Netflix’s business model of charging a monthly membership fee for unlimited rentals.

The “No Late Fees” campaign launched in 2005, claiming Blockbuster customers would no longer be assessed a late charge for returning movies past their due date. By March of that same year, the company reimbursed customers in 47 states on its new $1.25 “re-stocking” fee and paid $630,000 to those who invested in the investigation.

Meanwhile, Netflix never had to deal with such headaches associated with rental return dates.

The company started in 1997 as a result of the increasing popularity of DVDs. Since discs were small, Netflix developed a simple mailing method and was able to sell monthly subscriptions. These were popular with parents, but unattractive to our generation as they required a three-day wait period and lacked glossy DVD covers.

Ten years later, Netflix introduced instant gratification streaming and had 7.5 million members. Today, Netflix has 40 million members internationally and streams through all Internet connected devices. According to Bloomberg, Netflix accounts for one-third of all North American Internet traffic on a given weekday.

Surprisingly, video rental stores were facing hardship as early as the 1990s. According to Nielsen Media Research, 1986 was the peak year for video rentals. But Blockbuster managed to stay in business for almost 30 more years.

A New York Times article published in 1990 titled “Movie Rentals Fade, Forcing An Industry To Change Its Focus,” said that many people in the video store industry believed “the national mania for renting movies on video is over.” The article said that in the future, video stores would carry at least 10,000 titles, a prediction which came true. Perhaps today’s belief that movie renting is over also just means a change in tactics.

“This trend is an extension of American values like individualism, consumerism and a preference for convenience,” cinema studies instructor Caroline Claiborne said. “However, these trends also mean an increase in surveillance, corporate power and unprecedented access to information about individual consumers. The way we watch films is more individualized than ever.”

Netflix preys on these values, enabling easy access on personal devices, such as laptops, tablets and smartphones, and only limiting access on TVs that have no online capabilities. No video rental store can match convenience when it comes to Netflix’s streaming capabilities. Recommendations have become more individualized than ever with Netflix’s technology. Instead of getting recommendations from your friendly 17-year-old part-time Blockbuster employee who really likes Uma Thurman, you have a list of “Top-10 Picks for ‘Insert your name here,’” generated by anything you’ve clicked on while browsing its increasingly specific categories.

Silver Screen Video rents and sells all DVDs for $5 or less. Due dates are flexible as Flinn directs customers to “bring it back around Friday,” and there are also no late fees. Stevenson no longer frequents Silver Screen and mostly uses Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming services.

Silver Screen Video may represent a possible future for video rental stores. Flinn believes that if they are to stay in business, they must do something different like offer another service. So he plans to include a restaurant in his store. Ultimately, the space will be two-thirds restaurant and one-third video store, which will also sell high-end audio and music memorabilia, as Flinn has an extensive collection of Grateful Dead guitars and Bobby Darin’s possessions.

Freshman Nora Elam worked at Silver Screen while in high school, and was one of the store’s only employees.

“Working there was fun because a lot of neighborhood families would come in and I could give them recommendations. With Netflix and Hulu you can’t have that experience. I will miss the sense of community there,” she said.

Perhaps video rental stores will never become completely obsolete because they offer something that Netflix, Hulu and Redbox never can: personal human interaction.


Daily Emerald 2010

Oddly tucked away on the quiet corner of East 24th Avenue and Agate Street, Silver Screen Video’s business is an unassuming shop in the South University neighborhood. The outside bears no resemblance to large-scale video stores filled with window fronts teeming with neon and featured attractions posters. Shadowed by a large tree, the storefront is an off-white, painted over what was once a small market in the ’20s and ’30s when 24th Avenue was just a gravel road. The rows and stacks of movies illuminated by the indoor lighting is the only way to know the store rents movies.

“It’s all word of mouth,” Michael Young, a sales associate at Silver Screen Video, said.

Silver Screen Video’s appeal is something unique from the slowly decaying video store chains or the thriving online rental system; it’s simplistic movie variety.

“There are certainly a lot of college students that live around there, but we don’t do any advertising, so a lot of people don’t know we’re there,” said store owner Don Flynn, who also owns the Secret Garden Bed & Breakfast Inn on East 19th Avenue and University Street.

The store has one of the largest varieties of art house, classical and foreign films, and television series in the entire city. Silver Screen Video also offers the unanimous favorites from the traditional genres of comedy, action, drama and horror.

“What’s cool about here is we take suggestions. If you’re looking for a movie and we don’t have it, but I put it on the list and if Don finds it, he brings it in,” Young said.

“We don’t try to impress people with how many we have; it’s the variety,” Flynn said.

Adding to lure of a video store so close to campus is that a five-day rental is only $1.99 for most movie titles. This is a bargain in comparison to the $5 week-long rentals for most movie store chains.

“We have really decent prices. Years ago video stores had cheaper prices; our prices haven’t changed since that time,” Young said.

While the film rental industry’s future looks bleak, Silver Screen Video continues to stay in business.

“We aren’t a very busy business, but we’re staying afloat. We’re doing well enough or we wouldn’t be here. It definitely has been picking up more lately, and Blockbuster has been calling and referring people when they don’t have movies,” Young said.

In September 2010, Blockbuster announced it was $1 billion in debt and filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The Hollywood Video empire has completely crumbled to the ground with the announcement of a complete liquidation of all assets. Much of this has been caused by the domination of Netflix, which exceeded 10 million members in February, and Redbox kiosks with more than 25,000 locations in the United States and seven in a one-mile radius of campus.

Flynn and Young both attribute the Silver Screen Video’s doors staying open to the support from the surround community. Although most University students aren’t aware of Silver Screen Video, many families that live in the area continuously visit the store.

“There are more people that come on a daily or every-other-day basis, then people that come in every once and a while,” Young said. “We have a pretty loyal customer base. A lot of awesome people come in here.”

“It’s convenient and cheap,” said Nathan Georgitis, a resident who lives close to the store.

Yet with a continuously returning clientele and a solid cash flow, Flynn still sees the need to evolve the store with the transitioning market. In February, Flynn will execute plans to change Silver Screen Video into a new business called the Blue Note Cafe. The new business will have cafe-style dining, while also providing the same selection of movies it currently offers.

Although it will no longer be the underdog video store that currently sits on East 24th Avenue and Agate Street, the store will still operate under its original intentions to independently provide the surrounding community its movie viewing pleasures. It’s a business model that Young believes will never go out of business.

“It’s very nostalgic for people to come in and be in a movie store looking at a movie. A lot of people appreciate that and the fact that it’s a locally owned video store. People in Eugene want to support local businesses,” Young said.

Whether or not students start to frequent the unassuming independent business is not a huge concern to either Flynn or Young, who play directly into Silver Screen Video’s philosophy to rent movies at a low price with a lot of variety. Everything else will take care of itself.

Young displayed this as he sat in the empty store next to a stack of movies.

“I like working here; it’s mellow. I get to work with something I love, which is most important to me,” Young said.