By James Pouliot
---- — NEWBURYPORT — Express Video, Newburyport’s last remaining video rental store, has announced that it will close its doors permanently within two months. The store will spend its final months selling its stock of DVDs, Blu-ray videos and video games to customers.
The announcement was made to employees on Feb. 10, with the liquidation sale beginning the next day, according to employee Rebeccah Pearson. The store’s lease will end on April 30. Any movies and games still on the shelves will likely be sold to a wholesaler.
The store was one of the few remaining movie rental outlets in the entire North Shore area.
Express Video’s woes are nothing new. With the advent of online streaming services like Netflix in the mid-2000s, the brick-and-mortar rental model has become increasingly vulnerable, according to store owner Peter Herman. Herman has owned Express Video since 1999.
“Once Netflix, Video On Demand, Comcast, all the streaming services came to be, more and more people used them.” Herman said. “Every year, business would slowly decline. I certainly knew this day was coming many, many years ago.”
Herman had contemplated closing the business as early as 2009, when the store vacated its location at the Pond Street shopping plaza in order to make way for the expansion of CVS, said Pearson.
“He was planning on closing then, then a lot of us customers and all his employees said, ‘Hang in there; we can do this!’” Pearson, a customer at the time, said. “And that’s when he found this place here with David Hall in the Tannery.”
Now, after 29 years of business, beginning as a tiny extension of a Pleasant Street card shop and eventually outliving rental giant Blockbuster, Express Video has finally succumbed.
Pearson mourned the loss of the video rental store as a business model. As an employee, she appreciates the ability to interact personally with customers and make recommendations based on their individual needs.
“I kind of consider myself a video consultant,” Pearson said. “One of our customers had a great loss in her family and for a month straight, she would come in every single night and rent a movie. She’d tell me what mood she was in that day and what kind of movie she wanted to watch, and I’d tell her which one was good. Never failed her.”
Both Pearson and Herman pointed out the community connections created by the Express Video as one of the greatest casualties of the store’s closing.
“There are a lot of people who are quite devastated,” Pearson said. “We have a lot of people who have become more like extended family than customers. It’s a horrible ending, too, seeing all the regulars come in and be devastated.”
Longtime customers were especially hard hit by the change. Gail Elias, who has rented regularly for many years, was unsure of what to do without Express Video.
“To be honest, I don’t have a computer. I can’t afford all that stuff,” Elias said, referring to streaming content over the Web. “I just have my Comcast cable and these movies.”
She said she would likely be forced to move to an “‘on demand” service. According to Pearson, many customers are uncomfortable with such services, as they are worried about the possibility of their credit card information being stolen.
Herman said although customers often trend toward the older generation that is unused to streaming movies and unwilling to abandon the old model, younger children still frequent the Express Video.
Ralph Woekel, 14, stopped in on Sunday to purchase a movie and bid the store goodbye. He’s come to the store nearly every week for two years to rent comedies and action movies.
“I’m kind of sad because it has, like, every movie possible,” Woekel said of Express Video. “I do use Netflix, but this has more movies. If Netflix didn’t have the movie I wanted, I’d just come here.”
Herman has transitioned to helping a friend manage his clothing store, A Little Bit of Naples, in Portsmouth, N.H. He expressed his appreciation to customers and the Newburyport community for their support.
“We’d like to thank all of our customers and our friends for their support and loyalty over the years,” he said. “They will be missed. Being cut off from hundreds of people that you say ‘hello’ to every week, and all of the sudden you never see them?... It’s definitely a loss for me. There’s not a word to describe it.”