One of Denver's oldest movie rental stores is now one of the city’s last. Video One survived the rise and fall of mega chains like Blockbuster. And it's still here during the age of online streaming. But like many rental stores across the country, Video One may need to close its doors soon.
This is the kind of place that keeps the classics -- from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" to "Ghostbusters" -- playing on a TV screen behind the front counter. And the person on duty likely knows a lot about that film you want to rent too.
Victor Ward of Denver has been a customer for years. During a recent visit, Ward picked "Birdman" from a selection of around 30,000 titles on DVD and Bluray.
“I chose to get it from here because I would rather spend my money here,” Ward said.
Ward has rented countless movies and even entire seasons of old shows like "The Twilight Zone" from Video One. He says the thought of the store shutting down troubles him.
"It’s so important that it just hurts my heart," Ward said. "It’s our history."
70-Hour Work Weeks And $300,000 To Keep Afloat
Jeff Hahn wants to save Video One. He’s worked there since 2001. Then, it was just another job. But it turned into something much more seven years ago, when Hahn bought Video One from the previous owner who wanted to get out.
"I’ve spent most of my adult life working in here, and it was home to me," Hahn said. "It kind of felt that I would be the only person to really keep this going."
That’s meant some 70-hour work weeks and putting nearly $300,000 into the store to keep it afloat. Hahn says the store's variety is what sets it apart from competitors.
"We’re the only place in this city that you can find the majority of what’s in here," he said. "And we don’t want to go away because that’s valuable to us."
But going away is a real possibility, as Video One is in the red. On top of fewer rentals, the store has seen a big decline in DVD sales. A lot of late fees also go unpaid.
"What we have that goes unpaid would keep us alive," Hahn said.
Adapt Or Die
Rentrak, a Portland-based media research company, has tracked video rental stores since 2008. By the end of that year, there were nearly 18,000 stores across the country. Today, it estimates fewer than 5,000 still stand. Most are small or independent businesses.
Colorado Springs, on the other hand, has none. That’s according to commercial real estate broker John Egan of NAI Highland. He once worked with Blockbuster and Hollywood Video to get prime locations. Egan says when he moved to Colorado Springs 20 years ago, corporate rental chains were everywhere.
“Now Redbox is sort of the phoenix from the ashes,” he said.
You can find rental kiosks like Redbox outside many gas stations and grocery stores. Egan says convenience and cost are key to that model since there isn’t the high overhead that comes from having an actual building. So Egan suggests that independent rental store owners diversify.
"That tenant is going to have to find some way to do other things inside that business space to make ends meet," Egan said when asked about Hahn.
A store in Fort Collins did just that. The Village Vidiot has a board and card game area. It also serves Japanese food. Video One owner Jeff Hahn is considering his options too.
“We’re at a point where we are trying to figure out whether we need to just go out of business here in the next couple of months,” he said.
But what Hahn really wants is to become a non-profit organization. That’s something Seattle-based Scarecrow Video did in 2014 after the owners decided to get rid of their collection. So the staff of movie lovers stepped in and hatched a plan to take over.
The move to a non-profit led to a lot of donations and volunteers, business manager Kate Barr says. And Scarecrow now has outreach programs that target kids and the elderly.
"We are no longer locked in the equation of videos equal sales or rentals," Barr said. "We are destroying that model. This is more about community engagement."
Barr says getting grants for a new organization has been the biggest challenge. But she’s optimistic that’ll change as Scarecrow grows.
Video One Hopes To Make The Transition ... With $50,000
Video One owner Jeff Hahn hopes his store can still serve the heart of its Denver neighborhood. So he’s launched an effort to fundraise $50,000 for money to help pay for lawyers and application fees needed to become a non-profit.
Hahn hopes to get all that done before summer. That is the store’s slowest time, so he says he’d most likely have to shut the doors by then.
“I love doing what I’m doing, and there is a necessity for it," Hahn said. "Because once it’s gone, it’s going to be gone forever.”