Family Video the latest casualty of changing technology, pandemic

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Customers began lining up Wednesday for their last chance to pick up on a few DVDs before the neighborhood Family Video closes up for good.

Shawn McBride bought some video games.

“What we’ve got is a Pokemon and Monopoly game today,” he said.

He said he and his family will miss the store.

“We use it once or twice a month,” McBride said.

Long ago, in an galaxy of technology far, far away, you had to get up out of the chair, get in the car and drive to the neighborhood video store looking for a 4-by-7.5-inch cartridge that had the latest movie release on a piece of magnetic tape inside, and hope it was still in stock.

“Especially if it’s a new one. That’s more trouble. But if it’s an old one, it’s a little easier to find,” McBride said.

If you got lucky and found the video you wanted, you headed for home to put the cartridge into a big clunky machines that read the video tape inside. You hoped the last guy to rent it was kind enough to rewind.

“It was a big deal. It was movie night on the weekends,” Family Video district manager Brian Ballast said.

He remembers his parents taking him to the local video store. It inspired his future employment in the business.

“Enjoying those experiences with the family. And that, for me, translated into my career here with just the love for videos and movies,” Ballast said.

But times change. These days, seeing that movie is as easy as locating it on a streaming service. Like telephone landlines, typewriters and paper maps, video stores have all but disappeared from the landscape. The latest go is Family Video.

The company announced this week it is closing the remaining 250 stores across the U.S., including over a dozen in West Michigan.

Unlike the movies it rented, it wasn’t a dramatic finish for Family Video but rather more of a slow slide towards irrelevancy.

In the end, those changes in technology weren’t the only cause for the demise.

COVID-19 also killed the video store. Customers never returned after last spring’s shutdown.

“And it wasn’t just about them not wanting to come out,” Ballast said. “Hollywood’s not making videos, not making movies. And that really affected us too.”

While the new ways to watch are much simpler and offer more variety, they’ve also brought an end to an era.

“It’s sad to see things go,” McBride said.

While you can no longer rent, you still have a chance to buy some nostalgia. The going-out-of-business sales are underway.

Family Videos are expected to close by mid-February.

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