At this point, a non-negative headline about an American video store rental chain would be a serious shock to the system, but sadly we have no such news to report. Instead, we have the news that Family Video, perhaps the last large-scale brick-and-mortar video rental chain in the U.S., is calling it quits after 42 years. The chain, founded in 1978, still had more than 500 locations (mostly in the rural Midwest) when 2020 began, but the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately spelled the end for a business model that was already in a whole lot of trouble to begin with. All Family Video locations are scheduled to close in the near future.
Family Video was founded and based in Illinois, with a headquarters in Glenview, IL. Personally, I have fond memories of taking advantage of their ridiculously cheap rentals myself while living in Illinois in the early 2010s. This was years after both corporate Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video locations had already vanished, but despite existing in a landscape that had clearly given way to streaming entertainment, Family Video persisted. The chain was helped by the fact that they typically owned the buildings that contained their stores, meaning they could avoid the lease renegotiations that killed many Blockbuster and Hollywood Video locations, but issues with shrinking revenue were apparent regardless. In 2013, the brand forged a partnership with Marco’s Pizza, bringing pizza restaurants into many of its stores, while it eventually resorted to selling CBD oils and other products in many locations as well.
Still, as recently as 2017 there were more than 750 Family Video locations, but that number plunged precipitously during COVID-related shutdowns. For an industry that was already struggling with foot traffic and obsolescence, it truly was the last straw.
“While we have faced digital competition from Netflix and others for years, nothing has been as devastating to our business as Covid-19,” said Keith Hoogland, CEO of Family Video parent company Highland Ventures, in a statement. “We are very thankful to have been able to provide entertainment for many family movie nights.”
The closure more or less spells an official end of the era of the video rental store chain, as it was the only remaining chain in the U.S. with hundreds (or even dozens) of locations. On the fringes, however, independent video stores are still fighting to provide a unique service to their loyal regulars—if you have a local, independent video store near you, consider showing them your support while you still can.