Movie night in 2019 for most people means sitting at home on the couch and switching on their TV, connecting to Netflix and getting ready to select your favourite film.
But for residents in Invercargill, the age-old tradition of a trip to the local video store is seemingly still a popular option. Ben Waterworth reports.
When it comes to reporting on video stores in 2019, the most common headline you will find is doom and gloom about how the industry is dying.
“Final credits to roll at DVD rental store”.
“Video rental store closing doors”.
“Town’s last video store closes down”.
These are just three examples of the types of stories which have become as common as going to the video store once was.
One city in New Zealand is seemingly bucking this trend, with not one, but two stores operating and surviving in a climate dominated by point and click access and the instant arrival of your favourite movie or TV show to your viewing device.
The city is Invercargill, and there the city’s last two remaining video stores continue to not only survive, but also work off each other with a friendly and competitive rivalry.
Both stores are individually owned and operated, but still carry the United Video moniker and are located within only 4km of each other.
The Windsor store has been owned and operated by Melinda and Roy Barnsdale for 22 years. It is a short, six-minute drive from the South City store, which has been owned and operated by Daryle and Kim Blackler for close to 34 years.
In fact, so close are the two stores to each other, Mr and Mrs Barnsdale actually bought their store from Mr Blackler, who first bought the Windsor store over 30 years ago.
It is something a lot of people wonder about: how not only one video store, but two remain open.
“You get sick of every person coming in asking how you’re going,” Mrs Barnsdale said.
“We’re a great store, we’ve always been a strong store. But we are two strong stores. People think we are closing, but the old story is: use us or lose us.”
The Barnsdales have seen the industry change significantly over the years. From the “golden days” of the early 2000s when they would need at least four more staff on a busy Saturday night to keep up with demand, through to the change in technology from VHS to DVD and Blu-ray.
“I think the key to the success to both our businesses has been that we have been wanting to go with the new technology, adapted early and let people see,” Mr Barnsdale said.
Changing technology is now seen as the death of the video store, the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Lightbox and Neon driving a slow dagger into the industry over the last five years.
And while both stores admit business has dropped off in the last five years, there are still positives to come from the changing face of the industry which keeps the stores running.
The Barnsdales said the benefit of a video store was being able to offer titles which could not be found online, as the streaming services did not have the same back catalogue.
They said they would have close to 40,000 titles in stock, while Mr Blackler said his stock would be approaching 100,000 titles.
To compare with streaming sites — Netflix has 5231 titles (3579 movies and 1652 TV shows), Lightbox 296 titles (223 movies and 73 TV shows) and Neon 321 titles (188 movies and 133 TV shows).
Mr Blackler said it was also a more personal experience being able to come into a video store, which people in the city were still very attached to.
“People like to still pick up stuff,” he said.
“Not everyone likes to shop on the internet and it’s good to come in. That’s why we’re a library. That’s why I’m a choc-a-bloc in here. This was a Woolworths supermarket and I’ve got no more space left. It’s because we want to be a library.”
Mr Blackler said he believed his was the largest video store left in New Zealand.
The previous claim to that title was the Civic Glenfield in Auckland, which claimed to have close to 60,000 titles. It closed in January, making Mr Blackler’s claim hard to ignore.
“We stock our stores with a lot of product. Whereas in probably other towns they are wee small stores often and they weren’t going to survive.”
According to Statistics NZ, Southland is one of only three regions in the country which has not seen store numbers drop in the the last five years.
When comparing “video and other electronic media rental and hiring” store numbers, Southland had a total of six stores in both 2013 and 2018.
Tasman showed the same numbers, while Nelson actually increased from three stores in 2013 to six in 2018.
All other regions in New Zealand had seen a significant drop — a total of 204 stores closed in the same five-year period nationwide. Both Invercargill stores also acknowledge that without each other, they might not survive.
“If they closed down I wouldn’t expect hardly any increase in turnover,” Mr Blackler said.
Mr Barnsdale said each store had different customers who rented different types of movies and each store’s stock reflected that.
But with the number of stores around New Zealand decreasing every week, just how long can they both survive?
“As long as we’ve still got people coming into our store, we will stay open,” Mrs Barnsdale said.
This article was originally written for The Otago Daily Times. You can read the published version here