Video Goliath falls

As Blockbuster shutters stores, Chico’s longest-running local video store still going strong

Blockbuster is closing all of its 300 remaining corporate stores.

Blockbuster is closing all of its 300 remaining corporate stores.

photo by Ken Smith

As owner of All the Best Video for nearly 30 years, Dan Jenks has faced all manner of threats to the business’ livelihood.

For starters, the product he originally stocked his shelves with—VHS videotapes—has been obsolete for the past 15 years, replaced by DVD and now Blu-ray technology. Even the handful of businesses of the store’s ilk—independently owned, neighborhood video stores—that survived that technological cataclysm have since been trampled underfoot by corporate giants, most notably the Hollywood Video and Blockbuster chains.

“I’ll never forget seeing the glare of Hollywood Video’s neon sign reflecting in the front window of our Cohasset [Road] store,” said Jenks, who still owns four reportedly thriving All the Best outlets, including two in Chico and others in Magalia and Susanville. “It really felt like the big guy coming to squash me, but we survived it, obviously.”

Hollywood Video has long gone the way of the once ubiquitous “Be Kind, Rewind” sign, and now Blockbuster is following suit, with its parent company, Dish Network, recently announcing a decision to shutter the remaining retail stores and DVD-by-mail service.

All the Best’s endurance is all the more notable in recent years as more video stores, large and small alike, have closed due to the advent of online and direct-to-TV movie services, as well as physical rentals provided by vending machines à la Redbox. At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster had 9,000 stores; when Dish Network announced the closures, approximately 300 corporate-owned stores remained. An estimated 50 franchise-owned stores in the United States—none of them located in California—as well as others overseas will continue to operate.

The last day of normal operations for Chico’s sole surviving Blockbuster store, on Mangrove Avenue, was last Saturday (Nov. 9). Banners announcing new and improved services were taken down last week, and replaced this week with red posters announcing an everything-must-go liquidation sale scheduled for today (Nov. 14).

Workers at the Mangrove location refused to give details—or even open the store’s front door—on Monday and Tuesday, saying they weren’t allowed to comment. Calls to Dish Network’s corporate headquarters in Englewood, Colo., resulted in an emailed press release regarding the store closures from Kate Gremillion of Hill & Knowlton Strategies, an international public-relations firm. Gremillion didn’t have further details regarding how long the Chico store was open or how many employees will be left jobless.

Mike Brown, manager of All the Best Video on Walnut Street, has worked at the location for more than 15 years.

Photo by Ken Smith

“At this time we do not have specifics on employees other than there are about 10 or fewer at each location,” she wrote.

Part of the irony of All the Best’s longevity is that Jenks didn’t want to open a video store in the first place. He explained that his wife Cathy’s friend was dating a movie buff, and the couples would discuss getting into the burgeoning video-store business. The Jenkses started All the Best in November of 1985 in an East Avenue building shared with their other business, Cathy’s Sew & Vac, with the movie-loving friend committing to help run the store.

“We opened at the end of November and the guy went back East to see his family a month later,” Jenks recalled. “I never saw him again, so I was stuck with this video store I didn’t really want.”

Jenks said his reluctance dissipated as the store got busier and he realized how much fun it was to run: “Everytime UPS would come, they’d bring boxes and boxes of movies and neat little gifts from the studios. It was like Christmas every day.”

The business also grew—in its heyday, the Jenkses owned 22 stores throughout the North State, some of them joint ventures with Dan’s brother and mother. They also started a side business called Movies To Go, which would stock videos at convenience stores in rural locations as far-flung as Alturas and Truckee, which Jenks said eventually faltered as those places obtained services from DirecTV and Dish Network.

Though many of these stores have closed over the years, Jenks said the business continues to thrive. Even the most recently closed Quincy location, which shut down in September, was still turning a profit, he said, noting the closure was because it became harder for him to actively visit the store as he gets older.

Jenks said All the Best has always focused on providing a wide selection of films and catering to customers’ needs, including ensuring they carry films needed by Chico State students for classes. Of the ongoing appeal of the neighborhood video store, Jenks said that people like its environment.

“I think it’s always had a great feel to it,” he said. “People want to go out and physically see and hold the box, meet their neighbors and say ‘Hi’ to the clerk. We have a friendly and knowledgable crew, and some of them have worked here for years. Those things have always separated us from the corporate stores.

“We did great when Blockbuster was here, and I think we’ll do even better without them.”