CUYAHOGA FALLS, Ohio — Whether it was a reward for a good report card or a part of a family's every-week routine, brick-and-mortar movie rental stores like Family Video are ensconced in American culture. In a matter of weeks, nearly all of them will be gone. This week, Family Video's parent company announced it would roll credits on its remaining 250 stores. For the employees that remain, the liquidation sales now underway are the final act of dedication.
On Tuesday, Family Video's parent company, Highland Ventures Ltd., announced the end was coming to the 42-year-old brand. What started as a handful of small stores selling Betamax tapes four decades ago had morphed into 800 locations during the company's peak. The chain of stores that pockmarked the Midwest successfully transitioned and adopted every major iteration of media, from Betamax to VHS to DVD and later Blu-ray. Once streaming started gaining popularity, Family Video adjusted its business model to focus on smaller communities across the Midwest, using a sister company, Marco's Pizza, as a lure to get more people in the door.
Family Video survived a decade longer than the 'Big 3': Blockbuster, Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video. Highland Ventures CEO Keith Hoogland said in a news release that it was the pandemic that finally did the company in.
"I have to make the difficult announcement that we are closing all Family Video locations. The impact of COVID-19, not only in foot traffic but also the lack of movie releases, pushed us to the end of an era," Hoogland said in the release. "I am extremely thankful to our employees and customers that were instrumental in Family Video's success. Without you, we would not have been the last man standing in our industry."
If the crew at the Cuyahoga Falls location is any indication, Hoogland is right.
All but three spots in the parking lot are empty. The lights are dim and the door is locked. Perfectly parallel lines of rectangular boxes wrap the storefront like a belt. From the latest blockbuster to a decades-old classic, each and every one of the hundreds of movies that line the shelves at Family Video has a sticker.
You can take one home but you can't return it. The days of renting are over.
"Family Video has been able to stick around 10 years longer than the other video stores," said manager Annette Haynes. "I think that says something about the company. We tried our best to stay."
They tried their best to stay and now they're trying their best to say goodbye.
Haynes and two other employees, Gillian Adams and Rachel Sommer, work to get the store ready for the rush of people seeking deeply discounted movies, games and knick-knacks. Day one of 'everything must go' is always non-stop.
"We were here from open to close on Wednesday and we weren't even open," Sommer said. "We did it just to get ready for today."
The three women can speak from experience. Sommer and Adams' previous store was liquidated late last year. This is Haynes' third liquidation.
"Especially after the memories I've made here both working and not working, I don't know what else I can do to fill that void," Adams said.
For Adams, the closure of the Cuyahoga Falls store is especially difficult because it was the store she and her family frequented often. That deep connection to the location and its loyal customers is why she wants to send it off right, she said.
"There's literally nothing else I'd want to do right now," Adams said. "I've loved it every single day."
At high noon on the dot, the doors are unlocked and the line of people gathered outside begins to stream in. Deal hunters pick over the movies and games for sale, building towers that are 10, 15, 20 movies tall. One of the customers thinks out loud: "it's a shame that it took until the store closing to get that many cars in the parking lot."
For those of a certain age, places like Family Video hold the keys that unlock memories that were once forgotten. Gathering the family together to go rent a movie was ingrained in everyday American life. Family members had to compromise and settle on just a couple of titles. If the movie was already checked out, you had to be patient and wait your turn. The practice that sounds archaic now was actually quite harmonious back then.
"This is where you come, where everybody would come. You go out to dinner and you would come and get a movie. You would go home and watch it together as a family. The whole family would come," Haynes said. "Friday nights and Saturday nights, we had four people working. We were just that busy."
Movies were just the icebreaker though. In many small towns, the Family Video store would be the de facto neighborhood hangout. There was always a chance to see your neighbor, your friend or your teacher there (for better or worse). When Haynes kills the lights and locks the door one more time, those deeply-rooted connections with her customers will be what stand out the most.
"I would get to know the families and their kids. I've watched mothers being pregnant and having their babies," Haynes said. "Their kids would grow up in my store. Now, once this [store] is gone, there's no place for me to go. There's not another job coming."
Haynes said her job at Family Video -- her "fun job" as she calls it -- will cease to exist in a matter of weeks. It's a daunting proposition, sure, but Haynes is by no means dwelling on it. Besides, she's got some friends to say farewell to.
"We became friends with a lot of our customers. It's important to say goodbye to all of our customers to make sure they know we'll miss them," Haynes said.
You can't speed time up and you certainly can't slow it down. All you can do is press play and be kind when you rewind.