Matt Driscoll

Roll the credits — Tacoma’s last video rental shop, Backstage Video, closes soon

The way Fred Davie tells it, every story has “a beginning, a middle and an end.”

For Davie’s Backstage Video, the end is near.

Next month, the credits will roll for his 34-year-old business, he told The News Tribune this week.

Through multiple locations — including in Proctor, where Backstage Video has had a storefront for the last 15 years — Davie has been a mainstay in the Tacoma video rental game, from VHS tapes to DVDs.

Today, by his count, he owns the last rental store in town.

At various times, even fairly recently, business has been good, Davie said.

At others, it’s been not so good.

Lately, however, it’s been lonely. Through the closure of beloved local rental stores like Stadium Video — which feels like a sepia-toned memory at this point — and the slow decay and demise of chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, Davie has managed to hang around.

Until now.

“The marketplace is just telling us it’s time to move on,” Davie said flatly on Wednesday.

“The video business has been on the ropes for a while — kind of like the newspaper business. It’s hard to see how to monetize the value that we bring to the market. It’s a tough sell right now,” he added.

Oof. Point taken.

That’s not to say Davie, who has a knack for cutting to the quick, is completely heartbroken. While he knows the store’s closure — now planned for late December — will sadden longtime customers and leave a void in his life, he discusses the matter like a guy who understands business and accepts its realities.

Netflix. The explosion of online streaming services. RedBox. All of them have changed the landscape, and Davie knows it.

He also knows the Proctor storefront he owns has value, and with suitors interested in leasing it from him, Davie had an opportunity to walk away and earn more in rent than “the video store even brings in.”

While Davie declined to say what might be coming next to the location his video store has long called home, he described the chance to get out now as “an offer we can’t refuse.”

“It’s just not like it was in the 1980s and ‘90s,” Davie reminisced, recalling a time when people “arranged their schedule around when movies were coming out … and made a point to come to the video store.”

“I always thought that the business would probably turn around at some point, kind of like vinyl record stores. I thought there would be a rebirth and re-interest in DVD,” he continued. “It may still come, but I just can’t wait forever for the public to figure out what it lost.”

At its most basic, what the public is losing, Davie believes, is the opportunity for customers to “shop locally.”

With a video rental store, what’s lost goes even further, he said.

“It’s a very tactile sort of an experience. It’s going to a video store, collecting the boxes you’re interested in, reading them, and visiting with other cinephiles,” Davie explained.

“It’s a really a community sort of location.”

Looking forward, Davie isn’t precisely sure what the future holds for him — aside from a going out of business sale, where his estimated inventory of 40,000 DVD movies will be available. After that, and after several years spent working “full-time, almost for nothing, just to keep the store running,” he said he’s looking forward to a break.

Then what?

Davie said he’s heard from people who want him to go nonprofit, like Scarecrow Video in Seattle, and it’s an idea he’s open to.

At 69, however, Davie said it might be better for him to mentor someone younger who wants to give it a shot.

He’s not sure yet and wants to give it some time.

What Davie is sure of is that, despite all the reasons closing Backstage Video now makes business sense, after 34 years, it still stings.

“Your business is your little baby. … It pains you to close down when you’ve just put everything into it. To break it up and sell it by the pound to the public, it hurts. But that’s just the way business is,” Davie said.

“They all have a beginning. They all have a middle. And they all have an end,” the video store owner then repeated.

“And so we’re sort of at our end.”

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.
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