, Port Arthur, Texas

April 19, 2013

Movieland last of its breed in Mid-County

Julie Garcia
The Port Arthur News

PORT NECHES — “So, what’s good?”

David Laurents has been asked that question time and again at his father’s business, Movieland Video, over the years.

And though he may not know what kind of movies the customer likes, he promises that they will always leave with something enjoyable.

It’s about 11 a.m. in the middle of the work week and Laurents has just finished a business transaction with the guys from Game Stop.

The mournful sound of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst plays as soft background music in this store that got lost somewhere in a different decade.

Movie posters line the walls while a TV blares new trailers on a continuous cycle. A few rows to the left start the vintage VHS collection, which includes the most obscure to the popular titles of the 80s and 90s.

Walking into Movieland Video, 2825 Nall in Port Neches, is the closest thing to stepping inside Dr. Who’s TARDIS and time traveling back to a time where every middle-class family hit the video store on a Friday night.

“We don’t like to move things,” Laurents, manager, son of the owner and the guy who keeps the place going, said. “It’s like a mini time-capsule.”

And after Blockbuster in Nederland shuts its door for the last time Sunday, it will be the last remaining video store in Mid-County.

Time capsule

Movieland, which has been open in Port Neches since the late ’80s, was not the first of its name. The first Laurent’s Movieland opened in Groves several years ago, Laurents said. At one point there were three separate locations, including one in Gillam Circle in Port Arthur.

“The first one was bought in the ’80s,” Laurents said. “We bought all the inventory from someone for this store (Port Neches) in 1987 or 1988 and had the other store in Gillam Circle for a few years, but it was a rough location to keep up.”

Laurents’ father owned the Groves store for some time before selling to family friends who kept it open as long as they could in front of Bruce’s Market Basket, but rented out its last movie at the end of 2012.

Movieland’s extensive inventory spans decades and includes movies in every format short of beta tapes. There are also video games of every genre from original Playstation and XBOX to current Wii reimaginings of Mario Kart.

But Laurents admits that with the changing entertainment market and their lack of advertising in the last 10 years, there are people who live down the street from the store who have no idea that it exists.

“We have very little Internet presence until I started a Facebook page a few months ago,” he said. “There are people who live three blocks away who walk in and say they didn’t know we were here for years; we’re in talks with a local daycare and apartment complex for some in-house advertising.”

With a tag-line like “Showing you non-corporate love since the early ’80s,” it’s no wonder that the store has remained open in the changing and often turbulent tide that the entertainment industry has become.

Cyclical change

Lack of advertising and poor location aren’t the only reasons for Movieland’s revenue woes.

In the last 10 years, movie formats have transformed countless times and then there’s the way Americans have started to imbibe their entertainment. Whereas the average person had to actively leave their home to rent a DVD 10 years ago, the surge of “on-demand” viewing has torn a fatal hole through the movie rental industry, one that many think will never be repaired.

Redbox rental machines have popped up outside most chain pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, and provide an ease and affordability that brick-and-mortar stores cannot. Most of the latest movie releases are available for $1.20 a night and the DVDs can be returned to any machine, anywhere.

Nederland resident Brittany Lowe and her son, Mark, rent one or two DVDs from Redbox every two weeks, she said. Though she was a loyal Blockbuster customer for years, she said that it’s simply easier to use Redbox.

“Blockbuster started having less selection and upped their prices,” Lowe said.

Though Lowe has lived in Nederland for two years and shops around the area, she has never heard of Movieland. Upon hearing that they have old-school VHS, she was intrigued.

“I love ’80s movies, and what I don’t really like about Redbox is that they don’t have older movies,” she said.

Blockbuster’s brick-and-mortar stores have slowly been closing one-by-one in Southeast Texas for years and the Nederland location is the latest casuality for the chain. However, there are stores left in Beaumont and Orange, which are still on the “open list,” according to Barbara Ellis, director of marketing for Blockbuster.

There are 67 Blockbusters left in Texas and a reported 500 around the country and Nederland’s store closure falls into one of two categories, Ellis said.

“One is that they’re not profitable and I don’t have any visibility into that specific store to know if that’s why,” she said. “The second reason is that we aren’t going into long-term leases with landlords and sometimes that doesn’t work with their planning and what they want.”

Though the rental chain continues to get hit hard, they recently launched an app for Android and iPhones that will allow the user to manage their queues from their phone. “You can add movies, take movies and see what’s been shipped,” Ellis said, adding that she is not at liberty to disclose the number of Blockbuster’s online and mail-out subscribers.

“We don’t have any plans to close any additional stores,” she said.

A soon-to-be-ex-Blockbuster employee said that he’s sad that the store will be shutting down on Sunday evening. Since he’s worked in the movie rental business for the last five or six years (Blockbuster for three and the now-defunct Hollywood Video prior to that), he said he’s unsure about what his future holds.

“I got my TWIC card and I’m going to try to get on as a contractor at a plant somewhere,” he said.

Since he heard the news about his store closing, he started recommending Movieland to Blockbuster’s regular customers.

“Almost 80 percent of people don’t know about Movieland, which is disappointing because they have a great selection,” he said.

Laurents confirmed that there has been a flurry of new Movieland customers since Blockbuster announced it was closing.

Buying back youth

Some of those new members are teenagers and people in their early 20s, who missed out on much of the VHS domination, he said.

“It’s cool seeing 19-year-olds come in here who see the tapes and view them as a ‘new technology,’” Laurents said, before referencing a “New Yorker” article he read about new generations who have latched on to “old stuff,” like vinyl records, VHS tapes and typewriters.

“People want to buy back their youth and that keeps us optimistic,” he said. “I sold an new copy of ‘Flashdance’ on VHS a while back with the plastic still on it.”

Now that Blockbuster is closing, Laurents said that they are going to “give it one last big push.”

“We have a really cool boutique-like feel to our store and we haven’t gotten rid of a lot of our stuff,” he said. “All we’ve ever wanted is people to think about us every now and then and that we have a physical space for them to look through and find something they’ll really enjoy.”

The store is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.


Twitter: @julesbmt