A New Script 

For nearly three decades, Video Fan has stood up to chains, cable and the Internet. Now it’s making a final pitch for survival.

click to enlarge Can Video Fan survive? Owner Doug McDonald and manager Andrew Blossom say the store needs help— and nonprofit status.

Scott Elmquist

Can Video Fan survive? Owner Doug McDonald and manager Andrew Blossom say the store needs help— and nonprofit status.

While Video Fan manager Andrew Blossom makes his way through another shift Thursday, even the small details such as the tag filing system are under bright lights. The store needs something to change if it's going to survive.

So the one place in Richmond where you can walk in to rent a VHS tape has brought in a camera crew to help pitch its campaign for another year of existence. The store needs $35,200 to pay rent for another year and re-launch as a nonprofit.

"I am a lifetime video store acolyte," Blossom says while the crew sets up and a compilation of Weird Al Yankovic music videos plays in the background. "Video stores were and are the kind of places where you could go and be surrounded by something, and learn in a fun way."

For nearly three decades from its Strawberry Street storefront, Video Fan has withstood earth-shattering changes in how people consume films. While millions of people are content to let Netflix algorithms recommend movies and cable on-demand is a button-push away, Video Fan still has suggestion boards and a staff always ready to chime in.

"I like 'Snowpiercer' better," Blossom tells a customer trying to decide between the sci-fi flick and Tom Cruise's "Edge of Tomorrow," "but I don't think you could go wrong with either."

"Your timing is great," he adds, "because they just finally came in."

Blossom has worked at Video Fan for five years under Doug McDonald, who's owned the business for a little more than half of its 29-year history. It's weathered the chain video-store takeover, new formats and viewers lured away by the Internet.

While the customer base isn't anywhere near what it was in the heyday of the VHS tape, being a neighborhood shop has kept customers loyal. Blossom says the store saw an uptick around the time Netflix separated its streaming and DVD services and Blockbuster went out of business. But last summer was brutal enough to put the store at risk.

McDonald has put the building up for lease, and let Blossom lead a fundraising campaign to try to keep Video Fan in its space.

"The business itself is suffering enough that it's time for us to either figure out a new plan or get us a new tenant," McDonald says. "I'm trying to sort of separate myself, because if it doesn't work I'm trying not to be heartbroken by it."

Blossom seems more optimistic. "It seems to me if we get through this downbeat," he says, "we could build a different model that we can sustain."

The store has brought in $8,000 in pledges during the first week of its Kickstarter fundraising campaign, Video Fan Forever. There are three weeks left to get to the $35,200 goal. Contributors are giving money toward the rent, a pitch for nonprofit status and a documentary about the store. Perks for donating range from a replica video tag ($15) to the privilege of adding a clipping, photo or phrase to the store's countertop collage ($300).

"I happen to believe that video-store culture is important, and not something that should just go away," says Blossom, who also works at Chop Suey Books. "While we have it here, we should fight to keep it here."

The film crew put its three-minute pitch on the Kickstarter page shortly after filming. In the video, customers answer questions about why Richmond still needs a video store.

"I can't speak for Richmond," one fan says, "but I need it." S


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