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The movie rental store lives — and it’s not going anywhere

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It may be a business model from a bygone era, but as one of Ottawa’s last movie rental stores, moviegoers can still really browse the fantastic movie aisles.

Tucked away in a small, unpretentious strip mall on Kilbourne Avenue at the south end of Ottawa, keen-eyed movie rental enthusiasts will find Movies n’ Stuff.

Inside, it’s like stepping back in time, with 12,000 movie titles (mostly DVDs) stacked along the walls. A large figurine of Darth Vader towers above customers as they browse. There is a cardboard cutout of Uma Thurman from Kill Bill.

You can buy candy and microwave popcorn when you buy a rental.

A business that Peter Thompson is proud to continue. Five years ago, he inherited the store from his parents, who ran it for 30 years.

Mr. Thompson, who previously worked in the sales department, was forced to close down.

“There was quite a bit of backlash from people around here saying, ‘Hey, don’t do it, don’t do it. You know what you’re doing. Trust us, you can do it.’ he said.

“After discussing it with my wife, I decided to do it. It was a good decision.”

In the world of online streaming and free content, most customers forgo in-person visits to video rental stores. Over the past 15 years, many people have stopped coming, Thompson said.

“Like going to the library”

Still, a few hundred weekly loyal customers walk through the door to keep Movies n’ Stuff steady.

“It’s like going to the library and browsing the shelves and enjoying a book that way,” said Phoebe Gaudi, who has borrowed from the store for the past decade. Have fun and get some very good advice here.”

The store has over 12,000 rental titles on its shelves. Thompson has 40,000 more in storage. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

“He knows what we like, so we don’t really have to spend a lot of time browsing.”

Thompson said it’s that personal touch that keeps people coming back.

Also, it takes a lot of work. Thompson works with distributors to stock their shelves with the latest and rarest releases. This is the key to keeping up with the competition.

“Most of the night I lie in bed and scroll through, ‘Okay, what are the big foreign films? What are the good foreign films? What are the unknown foreign films? drama, unknown drama came out.British?”

“I will search until I find it.”

No sequels in rental video stores

Thompson isn’t the only one keeping a largely forgotten tradition alive. Glebe Video International on Bank Street also offers 18,000 movie titles from his lesser-known location, a church basement.

But don’t call it a comeback, according to Ottawa-based film critic Dee Goulding.

“I don’t think video stores will ever go back to what they used to be, but maybe that’s okay. It seems like the perfect moment. It’s such a cultural thing,” she said.

“It’s a very friendly place to come and see,” said Phoebe Gowdy, a customer of the store for the past decade. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Golding, who worked at Elgin Video, which closed nearly a decade ago, believes the streaming service has ensured the end of in-person rentals.

“There aren’t many places where you can hang out…and you can just walk away with nothing, but your life has changed a bit or opened up a little bit. Be around the cinematic experience itself.” she said.

“We don’t have it anymore. You know, I find it really sad.”

Thompson also doesn’t expect video rental spots to return, but says he appreciates neighbors who rent movies and come talk to him.

“Some nights it’s a burden, right? You think to yourself, ‘OK. This is a model. It’s not going to explode. It’s not going to get busy,'” Thompson says.

“And sometimes I’m very proud.”

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