Even with movie rental stores on almost every corner of the Santa Clarita Valley many moons ago, John and Gina Lee remember how a line of film lovers would snake through the aisles and out to the storefront of their Video Depot in Newhall.
That’s not quite the case today.
“Fridays and Saturdays were the busiest days,” said John. “There were long lines that would go out the door. Those days are gone now. Weekends are still a little better than weekdays but it’s different these days.”
While Video Depot no longer has the customer volume it once strongly held, its endurance to remain open amid a movie streaming dominated industry is stronger. The store even publicizes itself on social media as “(t)he last DVD and Blu-Ray rental store in Santa Clarita (and) possibly the world.”
With a multitude of options to watch movies these days, from Netflix to Redbox, video stores have found it more challenging than ever to convince consumers to leave their homes and make the drive.
“It’s been pretty hard to keep up with the times, but we’re making it happen. We just don’t know for how long,” said John, who is a longtime real estate agent and owner of Video Depot’s next-door neighbor Best Mail and Ship Center.
The Lees jumped into the video rental business in 1986, joining about 30,000 other stores across the nation at the time. They owned three other locations — two in Saugus and one in Canyon Country— before selling them off. They’re now down to their last one, but plans to get rid of it are nonexistent, the couple said.
“I love movies; watching them is my hobby,” said John, who loves classics. Video Depot grew from humble beginnings, with the owner handpicking a collection of movies on VHS from visits to more than 40 different shops to now having about 10,000 titles on DVDs.
Change is something the business has hurdled successfully over the decades, starting with Betamax and VHS rentals, to laserdiscs and later switching to DVDs and Blu-Ray.
“It’s just part of the changes,” John said with a shrug. And while transitioning from one form to the other to stay in business were big investments, the Lees have not had to make significant adjustments since online streaming took over, they said.
Some video stores have repurposed themselves as libraries, others have changed their selections mostly cater to collectors and some have only created social media accounts— that’s about the biggest adaption Video Depot has made in most recent times, according to Liam Miller, the store manager and a local film student.
“I feel like you kind of have to have some sort of presence on social media to stay relevant,” said Miller, who runs the business’ Facebook and other outlets. “We put out all the new releases and people can see what new movies we got in. But also, so many people have found the store through social media. Some people have made Youtube videos documenting the store because it is one of the last ones around. They’ll then link our social media and people will say, ‘Oh, we found you through social media.’”
An online appearance has helped Video Depot receive some foot traffic, but perhaps a large part of why people keep returning is their physical presence in the community.
“I remember everyone’s faces,” said Gina, who runs day-to-day operations. “There’s three boys, like 5 or 6 years old, that would come with Power Ranger toys. Now they’re 30 years old and live in Thousand Oaks and come by for a car wash or here and say, ‘Hi, Ms. Lee.’ We have very loyal customers. I think it’s because we don’t see them as customers, we see them as family.”
Some people still love the physical aspect of walking through the aisles and hand-selecting a movie, but that’s just the bonus, said Miller. The real treat is catching up with Gina, a friend of the community.
“Gina and her relationship with customers, that’s really the main draw,” he said. “It’s not that people are coming here because they can’t get the releases at other places, they come here because they want to support a local business and want to see Gina and have that face time.”
Video Depot’s future is uncertain, said John, but the desire to remain in business and continue bonding with members of the community is assured.
Video Depot is located at 23636 Lyons Ave. in Newhall, just west of Peachland Avenue. It’s open Monday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.