Internet Killed the Video Store

But NDG’s Indie Rental Outfit Avenue Video Dodges a Bullet

Chris Hagemeyer, owner of Avenue Video (5669 Monkland Ave.) Photo Elysha del Giusto-Enos

The corner video store is rare, but not extinct.

Whoever’s been killing off the video stores missed one, and for this game of Clue, nobody’s even asking to look inside the envelope. The Internet did to the movie rental place the same thing it did to record stores of the past.

But while Blockbuster Canada went belly-up in 2011, the video stores offering something more managed to cling on.

“People who love movies work here,” said Chris Hagemeyer, the owner of Avenue Video on Monkland Ave.

Hagemeyer bought the Avenue Video in Notre-Dame-de-Grace a year ago. The 20-something leveraged the purchase with some money its former owner owed him.

He bought the store because he loves movies—he can’t even get rid of the thousands of VHS tapes that have collected in the store’s basement. But to anyone who asks, he will usually give them a box.

“They’re like books—you can’t just throw them away,” he said.

A love of movies and knowledgeable staff are some of the reasons the store has managed keep its clientele base and stay open. But unlike the Plateau’s highbrow La Boite Noire, there’s something a little more unique to this independent video store.

Maybe it’s in the Internet memes scotch-taped to the staff selection boxes, or the $1 gumball machine full of classic video store prizes, like free popcorn.

Avenue Video’s aesthetic could be mistaken for a movie set. It’s High Fidelity —but with films. The Monkland location, its dark façade nestled between a hardware store and a closed cooking supply store, is the last of several Avenues Video.

Hagemeyer said the big chain stores that boomed in the ‘90s ruined the market for smaller video rental outfits like Avenue Video.

“The way they did the rentals, they said it was a certain price and then when they rang it up, with taxes and fees it ended up costing more and making people think negatively of video stores in general.”

He added that late fees were also a large part of the problem.

At Avenue Video they can’t afford to have people keep their videos indefinitely, as is becoming the policy for stores like Videotron, but for late videos, they won’t “charge you a million dollars.”

Hagemeyer added that people will try to haggle over fees—and that some excuses work better than others.

“The ones that I’d say work easiest, is when someone says a relative has died. Fair enough.”

“I wouldn’t say there’s a ‘good’ excuse,” interjects Dominique Paul, one of the store’s managers.

“It’s just the same excuse over and over. The most common one being, ‘Well, it didn’t work, but I just kept it for 14 days anyway.’ Or, ‘It was in the car.’ Or, ‘My husband was suppose to take care of it.’ Or, ‘I never rented it.’ But ‘I never rented it’ always turns into, ‘Well, it didn’t work anyway.’”

Satellite service companies offer their customers movies on demand, and Netflix, although stifled slightly by copyright laws in Canada, is also taking the video rental market away from retail stores.

“There are a lot of reasons video stores aren’t around anymore,” Hagemeyer said. “Primarily, there’s the Internet, and a lot of people just get their movies for free.”

He said Avenue Video’s collection of Blu-ray DVDs is one reason people visit the store, rather than just watch their films online. The files for Blu-ray are so big that they’re not viable to download— especially given how expensive Internet is in Canada.

But that’s a reality that might not last. Hagemeyer said that in Japan, download speeds have increased to the point that downloading Blu-ray is perfectly

“Technology outpaces security once again. But that’s the story of our culture.”

Hagemeyer said that the store is self-sustaining for now, but he’s realistic about how much longer it can hold on.

“I’d like to keep the store open forever,” he said. “I’ll keep the place open as long as it’s possible to.”