Q: What happened to Alpha Video?
A: The Internet.
Commercial Drive residents who expressed dismay on Facebook about the recent demise of a popular independent video store may soon have company in other areas of the city.
The past few years have not been kind to indie video outlets which have seen business decline steadily in the wake of prolific downloading options from iTunes to bit torrents and Netflix. Now many are struggling to stay in business.
At Main Streets Happy Bats Cinema, a note advising clientele not to panic accompanies large For Lease signs in the front windows. Two-and-a-half years after the store upscaled considerably from a closet-sized space on a side street to a prominent storefront on Main and 12th, the business is downsizing.
Six months after we moved into this space we noticed a definite deterioration in the business, says manager Robert Jamieson. We noticed there were less people coming in, more people talking freely about how much they download things and now with so much pay-per-view television and the Internet, weve just lost a lot of our business over time.
Happy Bats is looking to get out of its five-year lease at its current location and find a cheaper, smaller venue in the neighbourhood, a tall order on hip Main Street.
We think we can be a viable store for years to come, but we need to reduce our overhead quite a bit to keep up with the people that are still loyal to come to a place like this, says Jamieson.
Over on the West Side, Limelight Video manager James McBurney says video stores in the neighbourhood are experiencing similar pressures. While many indie outlets have closed in recent years, McBurney says Limelight has stayed afloat by catering to an older customer base (the store still carries VHS tapes) and offering a home video transfer service. But even those tactics havent insulated the business against its web-based competition. McBurney estimates business has declined by more than 20 per cent in the past three years. We dont really know what were going to do. Weve been in this spot for maybe 10 years... and now we have to try and make everything a little more compact, he says. But he added the store likely wont consider moving. Its not desirable, because weve been here for so long. I think were prepared to see it to the end.
Meanwhile, independent video stores on Commercial Drive seem to have benefited slightly from the closure of Alpha Video. Joe Burgess, manager of rival outlet Black Dog Video says hes seen a bit of a boost in customers since Alpha closed shop earlier this month. Hes not worried about the long-term health of the business. Were not quite as busy, but were always signing up new people, he says, adding that he believes knowledgeable staff, a wide selection and a personal touch will keep customers coming to their local video stores for the foreseeable future.
Happy Bats customer Maddy Kipling agrees. You cant ask a computer for an opinion. I think online stuff tends to be mainstream, so if you want anything outside of that I dont think youre going to necessarily find that on the Internet, she said as she was signing up for a new account.
That attitude is keeping Happy Bats manager Jamieson upbeat about the fate of his business. But he says more people will have to make a point of supporting the store if it is to have a viable long-term future. People talk about buying food that comes locally and shopping locally, but renting locally seems to be out of that equation, he says.