November 30, 2021

Family Video bucks trend and retains market niche

Last chain standing

Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter

Family Video manager Rocco Humberstone searches for a video title at the 64 N. Main St. store location. Family Video is the last remaining national video store chain; the Cortland store was established in 2007.

In the post-Blockbuster era of streaming video, finding a video rental store can be a difficult task. In some places, it’s impossible, because there are none.

But that’s not the case in Cortland. There’s Family Video at 64 N. Main St., the only video store in Cortland County.

How is this possible?

According to Rocco Humberstone, who manages the Cortland and Auburn locations of Family Video, this is because Family Video was not set up like its now-extinct competitors. When the big video rental chains were rapidly expanding by leasing locations, Family Video grew more slowly, adding to its collection of locations by buying the sites.

Ownership of every store made a crucial difference by reducing overhead, Humberstone said.
“A huge part of it is real estate,” he said. At the same time, its competitors had a difficult time keeping their stores going.

“They had all these huge commercial leases, and then business slowed down and they said, ‘Oh how do we pay all these leases off?’” he said. They couldn’t, and they went out of business one after the other.

Family Video now has 575 stores in 19 states. Headquartered in Glenview, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, the company continues to be owned by the same family — the Hooglands — who started it.

The last chain competitor, Hastings Entertainment, filed for bankruptcy in 2016; Blockbuster and Hollywood Video filed in 2010.

As the last chain standing in the video rental world, Family Video is still able to provide what video stores everywhere used to — human interaction, with employees who know their movies and can make recommendations.

“It sounds cliché but a huge part of it is just our customer service,” Humberstone said.
There’s also a shelf of staff favorites, which proves popular since customers can see videos they like, then notice other titles that a staff member recommends.

“It’s a fun thing for customers,” Humberstone said.

The recommendations also encourage interaction between customers and employees, he said.
“Customers love that. We have so many regulars that it’s almost like Cheers — everybody knows your name.”

Such as Rafael Felix, who dropped in just before noon Wednesday to pick up some movies — the newest installments in the Spider-man, Predator, John Wick and Equalizer franchises.

Felix subscribes to Netflix, but he goes to Family Video for “the new movies,” he said, which gets them faster than Netflix.

Humberstone said the shift with streaming services toward their own content, versus delivery of movies, also brings people to the store.

“I think that’s one of the things that helps us,” he said. “If you’re on Netflix, they’re really pivoting to a lot of their own content.”

Nostalgia is also part of it.

Felix grew up going to video stores with his parents, and he used to be a loyal customer of Video Circus until that went out of business. He said he’s happy that Cortland still has a video store.

“They’re few and far between these days,” he said.

There’s one more thing keeps Family Video competitive against the streaming services: CBD products. The company now sells them at locations in states where it is legal; the Cortland store started selling them in January. Humberstone said he was surprised at first.

“It was one of those things where we were like, ‘Wait, what? We’re going to be selling what?’” he said.

But after watching the sales of CBD products, he can see how it helps the company, because the store now has cus-tomers, such as Michael Tomkowicz of Cortland, who doesn’t own a DVD player. He visits the store only to buy CBD products to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s close to home, it’s clean in there and they seem knowledgeable,” he said.

Parkinson’s can cause involuntary movements called dyskinesia — symptoms that he said are eased if he uses CBD products.

“I spray this,” he said, holding up a small container of liquid, “and it calms me down.”