ARMSTRONG - Video store manager Sherry Aiken remembers days when the aisles were filled with people; families, couples on date night, movie buffs lining up for new releases. But like a good movie, those days came and went all too fast.
“It’s becoming the end of an era,” Aiken says. “This used to be the place to be on the weekends, it would be packed. Now, it’s nothing like it used to be.”
The rise of Netflix and online downloading ejected even the industry’s giants—Blockbuster and Rogers—a few years ago. But there’s still a demand for movie rentals, albeit a shrinking one, and Armstrong’s Video Express will be there for its customers as long as it can.
Blockbuster’s closure was a harsh reality; the massive company had TV commercials, flyers sent out in the mail. If it couldn’t survive, what small business could?
“We’re just hanging in there, doing our best to keep running but it’s only a matter of time,” Aiken says. “We’ve known for years so at least we’ve had time to prepare ourselves.”
Tourists passing through town are often surprised by the movie store’s existence. In just a matter of years, the video rental business became obsolete.
“It’s just a novelty now,” Aiken says.
The store was forced to cut back hours and reduce staff, but the atmosphere remains as fun and cheery as the flicks featured in the comedy aisle. That ambience is one of the reasons customers keep coming back.
“They like the social aspect of it, coming in and being able to talk to people,” Aiken says.
It’s the experience of perusing the aisles, reading the backs and getting suggestions from staff and fellow customers that draws customers as much as, if not more, than the movies themselves.
“It’s a neat thing; a family outing for some and a routine for others who have done it for ages and can’t imagine downloading,” Aiken says.
Having watched hundreds of movies over her ten years at the store, Aiken gives plenty of recommendations and knows her movie ratings too. She knows the regulars not just by name but by phone number and by what they like to watch. Some of them don’t even browse the store’s roughly 10,000 titles and weekly new releases, they just ask ‘What’s good?’
“I love that this is such a small town and you know everybody,” Aiken says.
Sometimes, on a long weekend or a Friday night in the summer, Aiken looks out from behind the till and the aisles are no longer empty but filled with people.
“When it’s busy out there I love it. It reminds me of the old days,” she says.
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