Remember video rental stores? Here's one of the last ones in Michigan.
Over the course of the last decade, video rental stores closed their doors across the state and the country as consumers turned to the convenience of streaming. But there are still a few mom and pop video rental stores in business in Michigan.
Video Exclusive is a strip mall video rental store in Dearborn Heights off of Telegraph street. The shop’s been open for nearly 30 years. The manager Tina Galindo has been there for 25 of them.
As one of the few video rental stores left in Michigan, Galindo got used to hearing the same refrain from customers: Oh my god, you guys are still open?
“I hear that like 20 times a week,” Galindo laughed. “That’s old hat…like…yes we’re still around.”
While it’s a common refrain for Galindo, customers do have reason to be surprised that a place like Video Exclusive is still open. Blockbuster Video – once the leading video rental chain – closed all of its corporately owned stores in 2014. Family Video was the last major chain standing until 2021 when they, too, shuttered all remaining 250 stores. More than 50 of those stores were in Michigan.
In the wake of these giant rental companies folding, many mom-and-pop shops closed up shop as well. But for those that managed to stay open have had to be creative about retooling their business model. For Video Exclusive, that’s involved an appeal to nostalgia, alongside catering to some niche film categories.
A Time Machine
Galindo said they get customers coming from all across the state. They even have some who make the trek from Ohio and Canada. When you visit the shop, it’s easy to see why people go out of their way to visit.
Video Exclusive feels nostalgic and familiar. The sign on the outside of the building has big yellow and blue block lettering. There’s a mailbox slot on the face of the building for movie returns. Inside there’s blue low-pile carpet, paneled ceilings, and fluorescent lights. A U-shaped counter wraps around the front of the store lined with the expected accoutrements: Goobers, Sno-Caps, and microwavable popcorn.
And then, of course, there’s the movies. Rows-and-rows of them arranged neatly on white shelves. It’s enough to make any millennial heart sing.
But Video Exclusive brings more to the table beyond the comforts of nostalgia. In an age of streaming services, the abundance of watching options can be debilitating. Have you ever spent more time searching for a movie to watch than actually watching one? You’re not alone.
“I click through [streaming platforms] for maybe three hours; I'm scrolling, trying to find anything to watch…and then I just wind up watching something that I've seen a hundred times before.” Galindo said.
Galindo sees her store as a solution to the paradox of choice consumers face on online platforms.
“[Y]ou just want to come in and just… look through…you know you see that cover and you're like, I need to see this movie. Just like when you were younger, you know?” Galindo said.
Perhaps it is the finite number of choices, or the ability to hold each DVD rental in your hand that makes a video rental store a more appealing option. At Video Exclusive, there’s also the chance to explore more obscure titles that would be harder to track down on a streaming service. Horror is one niche that customers seem to love at the store.
Video Exclusive assistant manager CJ Patterson has a few go-to titles at the store. Movies like "Butt Boy," a comedy-thriller about a detective who's investigating the case of missing children and about the man who’s shoving them up his butt.
There’s also "Mr. Jingles," a horror movie filmed in Michigan that Patterson said is a popular rental – probably, he mused, because of the terrifying clown on the cover.
The Back Rooms
You can spend hours (of fun) pursuing the racks in the front room of Video Exclusive, but the real money maker is in the back: the adult rooms.
And no, there are no saloon doors; just two red curtain panels separating the adult content from the rest of the store. Whereas the front room of Video Exclusive is arranged in orderly, paralleling aisles, the back room is almost maze-like. Walls of DVDs are arranged to create alcoves – perhaps to give a sense of privacy.
Galindo said that the adult section has always been an important part of Video Exclusive’s revenue, but profits from the adult section are now bringing in the majority of the store’s revenue. She said around 60% of revenue comes from the backroom.
“It's why we're still open, honestly. Very loyal customer base, and they spend money,” assistant manager CJ Patterson emphasized.
The store even started selling sex toys (also in the back room) to boost profits.
Maybe you find it surprising that people would go in person to buy and rent pornography. The internet and streaming changed not only the traditional film industry, it also gave easy access to porn. But Patterson said some customers see it differently.
“Online, they're worried, like, someone's going to track them and if they put their information out there, it might come back on them,” Patterson said. “No one's connected to the video store… it's still old school in a way that feels safer for some customers.”
Video Exclusive banks on customers that still appreciate doing things in the “old school” way, no matter what they’re renting. And for some of the customers, the biggest appeal of going to a video rental store is the cost. .
Galindo said that some customers don’t have the internet because it’s too expensive. Others don’t subscribe to streaming services for the same reason. And it’s cheaper to rent something at Video Exclusive than it is to do so online. Movie rentals at Galindo’s store are $3 for new releases and $2 for older titles.
For now, Galindo, said the store is doing fine. They’ve had to make several cuts to staffing. There are four employees who work long hours. But the store is staying afloat.
“To be able to keep the video store open, it means everything to me – from being little and growing up, movies have always meant everything to me. So going from working at movie theaters to then working here, you know, they've always been a part of my life and a part of what I live and breathe,” Galindo said. “I keep the store open and I try to do everything that there is in my power to keep it going, you know?”