Final call ahead for what is possibly Nebraska’s last video store


This story originally appeared in Flatwater Free Press.

The dying afternoon light penetrates the storefront glass and settles on rows of DVDs sorted not by genre, but in rough alphabetical order. So, Michael Myers from “Halloween” is hiding on a shelf near Tracy Turnblad from “Hairspray”.

Past a hand-written “DROP OFF MOVIE HERE” sign, the Jumanji poster and the Blues Brothers action figures, three customers are looking for entertainment to spend a Monday night in Norfolk. It is a difficult task. Chris Logan’s Call Video offers approximately 33,300 movies for rent, as well as 3,700 other video games.

Most of them are on DVD, but if you hold on to your perfectly functioning VCR, Logan has 7,400 more titles available on VHS. Somewhere it even has a few movies on Beta – the supposedly superior tape format that fell into disuse a long time ago. He does not praise them. As far as he knows, none of his customers own a Betamax player.

Chris Logan may have reached his own Betamax moment.

PHOTO BY DARIN EPPERLY NORFOLK – Chris Logan, owner of Chris Logan Call Video, puts away a few video boxes in his store on Thursday, December 9, 2021.

For more than a quarter of a century, it has survived the ultra-competitive and ever-changing video rental industry. He outlasted at least six physical competitors in his northeastern Nebraska hometown of 24,000. He fought off Blockbuster and resisted cable video-on-demand. He got caught up when Walmart dumped pallets of DVDs into discount bins and Redbox kiosks sprouted up like noxious weeds.

Today, a few convenience stores and theaters in Nebraska still rent movies to supplement their primary sources of income.

But Chris Logan’s Call Video might just be the state’s last independent video store.

It’s a one-of-a-kind place located near the intersection of US highways 81 and 275. It’s an aberrant place of home entertainment, open seven days a week.

The internet, the ruthless disruptor of all things retail, has come for Logan’s Call Video. Even Logan’s delivery service (the reason behind “call” in the store name) is not convenient enough for former customers who are drawn to the siren call of streaming.

“How to compete with a remote control? Logan asks with a resigned nod. “It’s hard.”

It’s hard for a generation high on Hulu to imagine having to go to the theater to see a new release, as everyone did in the 1970s. In the second half of that decade, the advent of the VCR started to change. gives it. But buying a single VHS movie could cost $ 79 or more, or nearly $ 300 in today’s dollars.

The sky-high prices created an instant trading opportunity. Why buy if you can rent?

Video Station, considered America’s premier video store, opened in Los Angeles in 1978. Within a decade, more than 30,000 outlets had opened across the country. One was Logan’s Antenna / Logan’s Video in Norfolk.

Logan’s father Gary started leasing Betamax tapes on the fringes of his antenna and satellite business. He sold annual memberships for $ 100 and sent tapes to out-of-town customers.

After Gary Logan’s death in 1992, Logan acquired his father’s tapes. He quit his job in an ice cream freezer at minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit at a local dairy. In 1994 he opened a new storefront one block south of downtown Norfolk.

He has spent the past 27 years behind the counter of his own store.

In the beginning, rentals were $ 1.89 for new versions and 99 cents for older titles. Logan sold annual memberships for $ 10, or $ 25 for a lifetime pass. He offered the lowest prices in town and gave customers punch cards for a free movie after 10 rentals.

PHOTO BY DARIN EPPERLY NORFOLK – Chris Logan Call Video store in Norfolk on Thursday, December 9, 2021.

It worked. In 1994, Forrest Gump raked it at the box office, and Chris Logan raked it in Norfolk. A line of customers stretched outside his door when new versions came out. Some nights he and his employees didn’t have time to restock and had to search for stacks of tapes behind the counter for a requested title.

During that first year, he commissioned a painting of prominent actors on his stucco storefront. The tagline under Macaulay Culkin, John Wayne and Jack Nicholson read, “Our hits will have you staring at Chris Logan’s Call Video.”

“Business was going well,” he recalls. “I mean, back then it could be really good.”

Even in the good times, the days of the independent video store were numbered. Corporate America launched franchises by buying out mom-and-pop stores. Blockbuster Video, the most successful, reached thousands of locations and 60 million customers in 2004.

The transition to DVDs has created an even stronger headwind, said Daniel Herbert, professor of film at the University of Michigan and author of “Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store.” They quickly brought down the cost of owning a movie.

“So people went to Walmart for movies rather than Blockbuster,” Herbert said.

The discs also allowed Netflix to send movies at low cost to customers who paid monthly fees. The subscription model represented a change from individual video store transactions.

“When Netflix and Amazon made streaming a normal thing between 2009 and 2011, it just sealed the deal on a trend that was already happening,” Herbert said.

Sure enough, Blockbuster declared bankruptcy in 2010. Only one of its stores in Bend, Oregon, remains open. In early 2021, Family Video closed its last 700 stores, including several in Nebraska, marking the end of the chain-store era, Herbert said.

At its peak in 2003, the movie and game rental industry generated $ 12 billion in annual revenue. The number has plunged below $ 2 billion by 2019. Fewer than 1,000 stores are still open in the United States, Herbert estimated. Only a few niche stores are expected to survive.

More than jobs and income have been lost. Visits to the video store have helped cement a local ‘film culture’ and contribute to the social fabric of a community in small but significant ways. Customers spoke to employees and other customers about what to watch and why.

“Losing all of these things means we relate to movies in a very, very different way than we did before,” said Herbert, “and also interact with each other about movies in different ways.”

The industry has collapsed. Logan remained standing.

It did so in stark contrast to the well-lit, brightly colored corporate chains. It did so with water-stained ceilings, crumbling stucco, classic rock beating on the stereo, and a locked “grown-up” section in the back corner. To access it, customers must pass under a crucifix and a portrait of Jesus.

PHOTO BY DARIN EPPERLY NORFOLK – Chris Logan, owner of Chris Logan Call Video, checks out some films returned by customers on Thursday, December 9, 2021.

Logan saw his income drop but managed to turn a profit. He cared for people without broadband – a major problem in rural Nebraska – or others who couldn’t afford monthly subscriptions.

What his customers sacrificed in convenience, they won in choice. Serious moviegoers walk through the door and are stunned by the selection.

Consider: If every Norfolk resident rented a video from Logan’s Call Video on the same day, the store would still have 9,500 titles on their shelves. That’s more than what some streaming services would maintain in their rotations.

Logan has a repertoire of obscure, low-budget titles that have never been released on DVD or streaming, said Dustin Ferguson, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who attended Norfolk Community College. Logan’s extensive collection of slasher and horror films includes titles rarely offered for sale, let alone for hire.

Ferguson knows how difficult it is to run an independent video store in the 21st century. He opened a new one in Lincoln in 2017. After a year of balance, it sold out. The second owner closed it.

It’s a scene Troy Small can’t stand watching in his favorite video store.

He has fond memories of going to Logan’s store with his father. The best involves a film described as a “dumb, low budget British horror comedy about a guy who gets trapped in a toilet stall during the zombie apocalypse.” His father praised him five times but never really looked at him.

The title: “Staled. “

Last year Small, 25, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, returned to Norfolk with a friend who had never set foot in a video store. Afterward, he returned home and created a Facebook page for Logan, a social media challenge. Small bought Facebook ads for Logan’s Call Video and helped brainstorm a new $ 10 per month pricing option.

“If only 1,000 people did the trick monthly, Chris would be doing great,” Small said. “The place is a landmark. It should be a tourist attraction. There really is no excuse not to support this community staple.

Is it possible to go back on something like consumer preference?

The profits have been slim for a long time. Over the past year, Logan has said he has lost money more months than not. He had to borrow to pay the bills. If he made a film about his situation, it could be called “Unbearable”.

It gives it one more winter.

“A lot of people tell me they hate to see it go away, but if you don’t use it you’re going to lose it,” he said.

If Logan closes, he will miss his customers. He enjoys helping people remember a title and the feeling when someone thanks him for the perfect recommendation.

He is 61 years old. With the weekends off, he would likely go to flea markets to sell his movies and games. In addition, he would have more time to maintain the four houses he owns in Norfolk.

Yes, of course, these are rentals.

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