From VHS to Blu-ray this South Okanagan video store has rented them all | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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From VHS to Blu-ray this South Okanagan video store has rented them all

Sundance Video in Oliver. The posters in the windows reflect the year 2013 when the photo was taken.
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September 12, 2021 - 6:04 PM

After 23 successful years running a video rental store in Oliver, Bill Unwin is ready to sell the business and retire.

The story of when he first bought Sundance Video rewinds back to 1998 – the days of VHS tapes. After working in healthcare, he was looking to relax a little.

“I saw the store was for sale, I wanted a good adventure, and I was looking for a change of speed, so to speak,” Unwin said. “We thought running our own little family business would be fun.”

Their daughter was hired right away, and soon after he managed to get his son to leave Rogers Video for Sundance.

“We’ve been able to give our kids lots of business training over the years, and spend tons of time together,” he said. “Never regretted it.”

In the beginning, VHS tapes cost around $100 per copy for new titles, as they had exclusive rights to rent out each movie for up to eight months before the pubic could purchase a copy. Once movies could be purchased or rented on the same release date, video stores could purchase new movies at a fraction of the cost, and Unwin said the bigger profit ratio was a helpful boost.

The release of Titanic on video is what he remembers as the most intense demand for any new movie.

READ MORE: Old-school video store getting new life in Kamloops

He noticed many Canadian video stores go under during the period of “no more late fees” at Blockbuster, shortly before the video rental giant went bankrupt. Sundance was able to survive that as the closest Blockbuster in Penticton couldn’t have a big impact on his customer base from 40 kilometres away.

Netflix initially dominated Canada’s streaming industry, Unwin said. It arrived early and offered a strong selection for $8 a month, back when it was easy for Canadian subscribers to access even better content from the U.S.

Online content was cheap and plentiful, he said.

But then Crave and Amazon Prime Video entered the industry. And then Disney fragmented it further by removing most of its content from other channels to launch its own streaming service, which also charges an additional $30 to watch new movies, according to Unwin. More recently Paramount Plus was launched and saturated the Canadian market even further.

Depending on how many movies each family spends watching movies each month, it can be a better deal to rent from the video store than to subscribe to multiple services, he said. Also, for many families in the South Okanagan, internet connections aren’t fast or reliable enough to be able to enjoy a streaming service.

But even if streaming services were completely free and fully accessible – they still wouldn’t offer the camaraderie of a video store.

“Friendliness is a huge part of it,” Unwin said. “Everyone can feel welcome and comfortable. We’re always socializing with customers, customers are talking with each other about what movies to watch, and some people are bringing their kids in to show them what a video store looks like.”

Beyond the movies and the atmosphere – plenty of his customers are there for the popcorn. People from all over South Okanagan stop in just for the snack when they pass through Oliver.

Unwin said it’s always fresh, and they use specially seasoned butter and high-end canola oil, and it contains less salt than movie theatre popcorn. 

“The theatre wants to make you buy a drink, we’re not so much into that, which is why we reduce the salt content somewhat.”

Some of the clientele at Sundance are children, and parents can leave a note on the account to let the Unwin’s know which of their youngsters are allowed to rent movies rated above their age level. They won’t rent R-rated movies to kids. And if there’s no note on the account of a kid trying to rent an 14A or 18A movie, then Unwin calls the parents to ask if the child is allowed to rent it.

Unwin figures, conservatively, the collection of movies at Sundance exceeds 6,000 and each title still has a fanbase, as he gets rid of movies that don’t get rented out for a year or two.

READ MORE: Movie-related products still hit stores despite film delays

He needed those old favourites to help get through the COVID restrictions which started in March 2020. At first the business experienced a boost from customers who had more time to watch movies, but as big studios began postponing the release of some films and cancelling the production of others, he lost customers. 

But as Hollywood studios continue producing and releasing big titles again, business is picking back up, and the 72-year-old Unwin sees it as a good opportunity to retire.

“From the time we started, the thought in our mind of making the video store very family-friendly,” he said. “I’m hoping that if a family buys the store and wants to run it that they’ll use the same tone with the customers.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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