Who in their right mind would buy a video store in 2016? That’s a question Reo’s Movie Emporium’s new owner Cole Johnston gets pretty much every day, so he’s got a ready answer.
“Everybody I’ve told that I’m opening a video store has had the exact same expression, a cautious ‘what are you doing?’ sort of face,” Johnston, 32, told the Star.
“I just really saw something that could work in Nelson. We’re such a microcosm of different people and so unique I feel like it’s one of the only communities where a video store could work.”
Put another way: “saying video stores are going extinct because of Netflix is like saying restaurants are going extinct because of McDonald’s. Both of them have a place.”
Johnston spent the last two years working at Reo’s for previous owners Park and Mary Cowin, who in turn bought the business from Paul and Megan Osak in late 2012. Reo Rocheleau founded the store in 1987 and remains its namesake.
Johnston has moved the business one building and a few doors down to the Front St. Emporium. Two months in — the grand opening was in April — he’s feeling heartened by the “fiercely loyal” clientele. He’s also looking for ways to diversify — he now sells toys, memorabilia and graphic novels, as well as having a meeting space, screening room and game room.
“I always knew this wouldn’t be a get-rich scheme, but I’m such a movie nerd and such a fan of the video rental system that I just thought ‘why not?’ Worst case scenario it doesn’t work out.”
That was something he was warned about while taking courses at Community Futures.
“I went to their small business seminar, and it was funny because they give out a sheet and one of the first things on it was the top businesses not to open” — including restaurants and video stores.
He decided to disregard that advice. He understands he’s got stiff competition but feels like he still has something unique to offer.
He noted that while streaming libraries often have approximately 1,500 titles, Reo’s currently carries 15,000 —including VHS, DVD and Blu-rays sorted into sections such as Staff Picks and Academy Award Winners. He carries everything from obscure documentaries to foreign films, children’s movies and blockbusters.
Pretty soon he’ll be starting a monthly movie night.
“It’s going to be the first Wednesday of every month and we’re going to pick a couple of cult movies to show. The first two movies are Miami Connection, a 1980s ninja musical, and Turbo Kid, this new Canadian Mad Max spoof.”
He’s offering his space for people to throw birthday parties and screening events of their own.
“We’re carrying vinyl now too, because that’s a big thing now. I always wanted to see Reo’s as a nerd depot. And I’m saying nerd in the best possible way. Everyone who has a nerdy thing can come down and enjoy it.”
Magic and Cards Against Humanity tournaments are coming, though Johnston joked Dungeons and Dragons players might “stay too long.” He’s feeling optimistic about the future, mostly because his type of personal passion is hard to replace with technology.
“Netflix is great and it’s cheap and instant, but relying on a computer algorithm to decide what you watch — it takes something out of it, for sure.”