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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell’s Family Video shuts its doors

Family Video’s iconic sign off I-80. By Kaya Matsuura.

The Grinnell Family Video Store is an iconic landmark for students driving back to campus from Interstate 80, with its retro sign advertising the latest Hollywood blockbusters. But this October, it will close its doors permanently.

A liquidation sale of Grinnell Family Videos’ stock began on Sept. 14. Until mid-October, the store will be selling DVDs for as little as $1.25, as well as other store fixtures.

The S&B spoke with Paige Garringer, the manager of Grinnell’s Family Video location, as well as one in Newton, Iowa, about the closure. She began working for the company as a manager in January of this year. In late August, Garringer was given notice from her district manager that the Grinnell location would close in mid-October due to pandemic related revenue loss and a general trend away from video stores towards streaming services.

On Sept. 9, Garringer also found out that the Newton Family Video location would be closing. With only one day’s notice, and with three of her employees quitting, she had to set up another liquidation sale. Garringer told The S&B that the Newton location has always been busier than Grinnell, which she said could go hours without a customer. Garringer does not know why Newton, a higher revenue location than Grinnell, was closed so quickly. Newton’s Family Video will shut down permanently on Thursday, Oct. 1.

According to Garringer, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant decline in revenue at both the Grinnell and Newton locations. The decline in sales can be attributed to Hollywood’s decision to pause the release of many of its movies, as Family Video relies heavily on new releases to draw in customers.

In recent years, streaming services have also gotten more involved with the distribution of new movies. One example of this is “Emma,” which skipped theaters entirely and became available on Amazon and OnDemand. As theaters remain shuttered around the country, many movies have been following a similar path and going straight online, leaving out stores like Family Video.

The interior of Grinnell’s Family Video. By Kaya Matsuura.

Grinnell College’s transition to online learning last spring, which forced students to leave town, also affected revenue at Grinnell’s Family Video. Garringer said that many students came into the store before the pandemic, and that frequent visits even affected what stock the Grinnell store offered. For example, Grinnell Family Video offered significantly more foreign and independent films than the Newton location, a direct reflection of student interest.

The closure of the two Family Videos is not just due to the pandemic. It also comes during a general trend of moving away from brick-and-mortar video stores. In 2019 there were 700 Family Video locations in the United States and Canada. In 2020, according to Garringer, there are just 300. With the popularity of streaming services and Redbox, as well as the shift away from DVDs, video rental stores have been left behind. Blockbuster, an international video renting chain, went from having 9,000 stores in 2004 to zero in 2020.

One of the reasons that Family Video stores have survived for so long is that, unlike Blockbuster, which rented expensive real estate in cities, Family Video stores are mostly in rural and suburban locations, where the company can afford to invest in real estate. Family Video is owned by Highland Ventures, based in Glenview, IL, which according to the company website owns 90 percent of their locations’ real estate. This includes their Grinnell location. Grinnell’s Family Video, whose sign once welcomed customers, now tells customers that the building is available for lease.

In its rural locations, Family Video is able to provide movies to residents who have less reliable internet and therefore less reliable access to streaming services. Garringer stated that the Grinnell and Newton locations saw “quite a boom in sales” due to the Derecho storm on Aug. 10, as many Iowa residents lost internet and cable for weeks after the storm.

The closest Family Videos to Grinnell College are now in Waterloo and West Des Moines. If you want to support Family Video, and the concept of video stores, Family Video has begun a hashtag on Facebook and Twitter, #savethevideostore, to garner support. It is also selling vintage T-shirts and other branded items on their website.

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