A brick-and-mortar DVD rental chain was already an anachronism in 2020. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
Family Video was a holdover from another era, still renting DVDs and selling candy in Pennsylvania long after Blockbuster Video turned out the lights. The Illinois-based chain survived in rural areas with older populations where internet service is notoriously spotty and streaming movies is wishful thinking.
When The Inquirer first wrote about Family Video in 2019, the chain had 700 stores in the United States and Canada, most in the Midwest and the Great Lakes region. A 2017 Forbes story about Family Video estimated that Highland Ventures, its parent company, brought in $450 million in annual revenue.
Pennsylvania had 22 locations in 2019, most of them west of Harrisburg. Today, that number is down to nine.
“In most states, we just couldn’t operate because of the pandemic," said Derek Dye, a brand manager for the company.
Dye estimates that 200 stores closed overall as a result of the pandemic, with 300 left. He expects an additional 50 to 60 to close by year’s end.
Dye said at least nine of the closures in Pennsylvania were directly related to the drop in business during the pandemic. Ironically, all the people quarantined at home meant demand for movies was high, Dye said. But Family Video wasn’t able to implement curbside pickup, and many people resorted to Redbox, a competitor that uses DVD vending machines.
Family Video locations are open today, but Dye said the company is struggling with the same problem movie theaters are facing: There are nearly no new films to rent.
“Hollywood is holding off on making and releasing new movies,” he said.
That pause puts Family Video even further back in the line. When Hollywood does release films, Family Video still has to wait months, perhaps longer, before they are out for rental. Meanwhile, streaming channels proliferate and efforts to increase broadband in rural Pennsylvania continue.
Dye said it will be difficult to recover.
When The Inquirer visited Family Video’s Warren County location in Northwestern Pennsylvania in 2019, families and couples were browsing the aisles for new releases.
“We know all our customers by name,” the manager said at the time.
The Warren store has closed, Dye said, along with locations in Erie and Bradford, home to Zippo lighters.
Starting next week, Family Video is trying to push a #SaveTheVideoStore campaign, with a support video from New Jersey’s own Kevin Smith, director of Mallrats and Clerks, and in-store promotions. Dye said the company is hoping it can spark some nostalgia, for now, even selling a retro-looking T-shirt.
“We still want to be that neighborhood store,” Dye said. “We’re thinking of a Family Video candle.”