At its peak, Blockbuster had more than 9,000 stores worldwide, including about 100 here in Wisconsin. That was 20 years ago. Just five years later, in 2019, most of those stores closed. But everything comes back eventually… right?
At Madison’s Four Star Video Rental, DVDs, Blu-rays, 4K UHD discs, and a small shelf of VHS tapes still draw customers in every single day. Some rent discs for $4.49 a piece, but most sign up for a membership, so they can rent an unlimited number of movies every month. The store has between 20 and 22,000 discs in stock at any given time. The average streaming service offers around 5,000.
While the way people watch movies has changed many times since Four Star opened in 1985, physical media still has a surprising number of fans. So how does a small store decide which movies to keep in stock?
“There are certain titles where I know that at least THIS person is going to rent it. I have a lot of customers that are pretty adventurous. If they see a movie in front of them, they’re like, ‘Oh, what’s this?,” owner Lewis Peterson said in an interview with the Cap Times.
“We definitely get all the big blockbuster stuff, but a lot of it is maybe me imposing my personal tastes or things customers have been asking me about. ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ was one of last year’s Best Picture nominees. I had a few customers asking for it. It’s been on Netflix for more than a year, but they’re going to wait for us to get it,” Peterson added.
That’s a big question for Four Star and other physical media shops like it. In September, Netflix dropped their discs-by-mail program. It’s still too early to tell how that will impact video stores, but Peterson says that could go one of two ways: Either more customers will come into his store for discs OR most people will permanently move on from physical media.
Either way, physical discs still have an undying core fan base.
“A lot of our customers are people who are into the ritual of it,” Peterson said. “They’ve been doing it this way for a long time, and they’re happy to continue doing it.”
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