One of the last holdouts, after all the big video giants like Hollywood and Blockbuster closed down, is facing make-or-break times to stay open.
Rentals are down 40 percent at Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, known for its vast selection, around 117,000 titles.
“Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times that they are struggling,” said KIRO Radio’s John Curley upon hearing the news. “The Main Street stores often are victim of the ability to be able to get the product to somebody more efficiently.”
Video rental services like Red Box, and streaming services like Netflix are becoming the standard in video entertainment. While Scarecrow has a somewhat unique product, in terms of a selection that includes some very hard-to-find, rare titles, KIRO Radio’s Tom Tangney says that is not the type of thing drawing a large number of renters.
“The great thing about Scarecrow Video is that the store had titles you didn’t even know existed,” says Tom. “A lot of the segments are divided up by director, and you can find things like Peter Greenaway’s short films he made in his 20s. It’s that kind of stuff that is so rare and so valuable.”
“The problem is that most of the traffic in there is not for those rare obscurities. You can’t support a store on the rare obscurities alone,” says Tom.
Kevin Shannon, general manager at Scarecrow, says it’s not a just a video rental store anymore, but a community gathering with events like trivia night and movie screenings. He adds that many of their customers come in to buy used titles.
The decline in rentals and sales is the same thing that happened with bookstores, when services like Amazon made it easier to get books from the comfort of your living room, says Tom, who admits the only reason he goes into his local bookstore is because he likes the idea of having a brick-and-mortar store.
“I just try to buy a book or two at the store because I like the idea of having a bookstore in my neighborhood,” says Tom. “It’s much easier for me to get it through Amazon.”
Tom says Scarecrow Video was a great product of its time.
“Fifty years ago, there weren’t videos available and 50 years from now there’s not going to be videos,” says Tom. “For the time being, it was the greatest. All of the foreign film directors that would come through town would stop off at Scarecrow Video and be amazed at what was available to them.”
“It’s a great place, but I do think it’s more like a museum piece now than anything else,” says Tom.
While surprising, Shannon says they have a huge demographic of customers in their 20s buying up used VHS. “It’s an easy way to build a collection.”
Shannon adds, “The thing about rare titles, if you’re a film fan, it doesn’t matter what age you are.”
Developing the business into a non-profit library-type format is something the company is considering if the traditional rental business does not pick up.
Shannon says no matter what, the collection will remain intact. There are no plans to sell off titles to “the vultures.”
In the meantime, Tom encourages “anybody who’s ever seen a video and watched a DVD they like,” to go rent or buy a video at Scarecrow Video.
“Do yourself a favor, do the world a favor, stave off the inevitable one more day,” says Tom.
MyNorthwest.com’s Stephanie Klein contributed to this report.