The final credits are coming up for Town & Country Video, the County’s last remaining video rental store.
After almost 30 years at 130 Main St., in Picton, thousands of movies and video game rentals will be for sale – and when they’re gone, the store will be closed.
Owner Gavin Bonham-Carter made the announcement on Facebook late Tuesday night.
“Technology has finally beaten us,” he said. “With the introduction of android boxes, Netflix and just bootlegging in general, the dynamics of a bricks and motar video store no longer work.”
In the heyday, there were 13 places to rent movies in Picton. Within a month or so, movie fans will no longer be able to enjoy the thrill of arriving just in time to find the newest release still available on the shelf, or in the return pile. There will be no store dedicated to the Friday night rental flick.
On social media, Town & Country customers quickly flooded his announcement with expressions of sadness, and gratitude.
“Your store has brought great times to generations,” said Vance Jeffries.
“I will always have fond memories of your store and all the movies we were able to enjoy,” said Jim King, wishing him the best. “I’m afraid androids and Netflix don’t replace the selection and the friendly smile one always received in Town & Country.”
Sam Hanna said he remembers going to the store every weekend, as a child, to get a movie, a Super Nintendo game and a few gum balls.
“You were a part of my childhood. I have moved to Kingston and every time I come to the County I always see the store and am in awe that you guys were still standing. I’m going to try my best to get down to grab something to keep as a memory of the best movie rental store I have ever been to.”
Closing is bittersweet for Bonham Carter, who started in the business as his own employees did, as student. When he was hired in 1988 by Gary Kleinsteuber, the store was in Prince Edward Pizza’s current location next door, for about a year.
“Gary was a fantastic guy and really good to me, but he was losing interest in the store and we weren’t making money,” Bonham-Carter recalls. “Mr. Larry (Craig) had opened his store a couple years before and he was fantastic competition and took a lot of our business. We were slipping a bit and the conversation came up with Gary that he was thinking of closing, so I bought myself a job. I was 24.”
Bonham-Carter has since hired more than 50 students, maybe 60, since he bought the business in 1996. A position at Town & Country Video is long known as one of the ‘coolest’ jobs for a student to get in the County, and for many, was their very first real employment.
“I’d look for the responsible Grade 9 or 10 kids so they’d stay on for a few years and they always worked out well. I’ve had amazing staff over the years.”
Town & Country is also well known for its many years of sponsorship of sports teams, including soccer and baseball, race cars and the Picton Pirates Chuck a Puck. Bonham-Carter always had gift certificates at the ready to sponsor schools, service clubs, charities and other organizations in need of fund-raising donations.
“It’s about community,” said Bonham-Carter.
That community returned the support.
“In the beginning it was everybody renting movies because it was so new. Then it slowly transitioned to a lot of families. Mom and Dad get their movie, the kids get a movie, there’s a bag of chips, some pop and away they went for their Friday night. There’s still a lot of families that come here.”
The closing also marks the end of the dreaded “automated calling machine” looking for the return of late movies.
Top excuses for late movies?
“The traditional ‘the dog ate it’ comes to mind and they really did. The movie came back in all chewed up. Also, sometimes movies came back years later, found behind the television, or under the couch. A lot of movies got left on the roof of the car when people drove away. They’d be found on the road and somebody else would bring them in, in pieces.”
This was a business that did very well on rainy days and snow days. Tourists who had already lost their home-town video stores also enjoyed the nostalgia of renting, rain or shine.
When Mr. Larry retired and closed his store, it was more good news for Town & Country Video sales.
“Larry’s a great guy and when he retired it was good for me because he was the reason that business did as well as it did,” said Bonham-Carter.
And though new technology is the reason the video store is closing today, it was has also been the force of success.
“VHS movie rentals were trailing off and people were losing interest, but when DVDs came out, they were so much better quality, it was a renewed life for the business. We had some of our best years financially,” said Bonham-Carter.
Best of all, there was no more re-winding or fixing VHS tapes, though he had become an expert at fixing and splicing tapes eaten by VHS players back together.
But while DVD quality was getting people interested in renting movies again, Bonham-Carter said he needed to spur it along. He made a deal with Walmart to purchase inexpensive DVD players and included 10 movie rentals with each sale.
“You were kind of getting the player for $25 or $30 but with the free movie rentals we were almost giving them away,” said Bonham-Carter. “And that Christmas, we sold some 1,500 DVD players and gave away a ton of movies. But, what it did was get people into ‘watch’ mode so whatever we gave them for free, we made back three or four-fold. It was a fantastic thing and it really killed VHS quickly, but it brought DVDs to life, so that was good for us.”
A long-standing store favourite is the giant gumball machine that spit out chances to get orange or black gumballs to win free movies.
Just recently, a regular customer’s young daughter brought smiles to the staff.
“She ran in the store, ran up to the gumball machine and gave it a big hug, and a kiss, and told it she loved it,” he said. ”
Leading up to the final decision to close the store were a few days of business where Bonham-Carter says the staff made more money than he did.
“Spring is usually slow but this year, with so many Canadian teams in the hockey playoffs, business has really been down. I spoke with a few friends who have video stores and they all reported that yesterday was the worst yet for all of them.” (Playoffs Game 3 Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals).
A rainy Easter Sunday should also have been a good movie day, but it wasn’t.
Bonham-Carter said he could continue with lower sales volume as he has done for the past year or so, but “the time has come.”
Movie studios, he said are pushing for digital releases over hard copies, wanting people to buy online, or stream online.
“Am I sad? Yeah. Has it set in? Probably not. We didn’t actually make the decision until last weekend but the thought was always there.”
The last rental customers, for the movie ‘Split’ were Brin Sorenson and Laine Morch, two long-time, loyal customers.
Until yesterday, the store had been open every day, except Christmas. Tuesday, customers found the door locked and covered with brown paper. Bonham-Carter and helpers were putting the rental DVDs back into their boxes, pricing and displaying them for the closing sale to start Wednesday morning, April 19.
Newly-released movies will be selling for $9.99 while some of the older flicks will be as low as $2.99. The many video games will also be sold.
He expects the store could be closed within about a month. After that, he will concentrate on other businesses in the County – a laundromat, ice-cream store, cottage rentals and as a landlord.
In his down time, he might just relax a bit and turn on his own Netflix.
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