Veteran Retailer Closes His Last Store9 May, 2017 By: Stephanie Prange
It’s the end of an era for a veteran video retailer.
Mark Vrieling, long a leader in the industry, April 30 closed his last Rain City Video store after nearly 30 years in business.
He opened his first of what at one time were three stores in the Seattle area on Thanksgiving Day in 1988.
“I was a young buck back then, and the VCR was still this new invention,” he said. “There were still a lot of areas around Seattle that didn’t have a video store. It was just developing. It was really when the business was just getting started.”
That first store opened in a suburb of Seattle called Ballard. Two years later he had two more stores in the Seattle area.
“We’ve been more of an auteur store,” he noted. “Early on it was kind of a big deal that I had a section of Oscar movies. I learned early on that, in addition to new releases, evergreen titles could be very popular. For years and years, new-release was just a third of our gross.”
It was that eye toward catalog titles that kept him in business when many other video stores, including chains such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, shuttered.
“That’s kind of been our success up until closing, being a deep catalog store,” Vrieling said. “I wouldn’t have hung on nearly this long if it had been just new-release driven. We had over 30,000 titles in our store.”
As video stores closed, ironically Rain City experienced a business resurgence.
“What we noticed was that when other video stores closed, we started getting people to drive farther and farther to our store and they were doing it for the catalog,” he said. “People were willing to drive four or five miles for that special catalog title they were looking for.”
But eventually Netflix and its digital brethren took a toll. Netflix via its disc-by-mail rental program had a large catalog offering as well.
“You couldn’t have done a better bait and switch than Netflix,” Vrieling said. “[At one time] they had up to 100,000 titles, so they were just huge.” But as Netflix moved to original programming and TV, it significantly decreased catalog offerings, he noted.
Even so, the onslaught of digital video eventually proved too much for Rain City. Vrieling closed down one store three years ago, another two years ago and the final store last month.
“It was just time,” he said, noting he was “surprised” at the strong sales for his last store’s inventory.
“Video stores may end up as just a footnote in the history of the movie business, but I think the footnote will be a high point in the history,” Vrieling said. “It was a time when pretty much any movie ever made was within reach of anybody. Even small towns and suburbs like mine had tens of thousands of titles available to its customers. However, free electronic delivery and no returns is just too high of a bar for even a deep catalog store to compete with. It’s too bad. Real film buffs and students of the business have lost a great resource in the demise of the video store. But personally, this was a good ending to what was a very good 29 years in business.”
What are his lasting memories about his time in the business?
“I would say the biggest ones were the heyday of the VSDA convention, some of the parties that the studios would put on,” he said.
He also remembers his fellow video retailers.
“They weren’t as much your competitors as they were your colleagues,” he said, noting that his time as chairman of the Entertainment Merchants Association was also a special memory.
What will he miss?
“I think I’ll miss most just being a video retailer,” he said. “Although I’ve got other businesses, I’ve always in my heart identified as a video retailer. The pride of the collection, it defined me.”
With the demise of the video retailer, he mourns the loss of consumers’ easy access to deep catalog.
“Deep, deep selection is what’s being lost now,” he said. “It’s the single biggest gap in the business now.”