MOSCOW — In the mid-1980s Howard Hughes Video opened in Moscow as a way for an appliance store to sell VCRs. Watching movies at home was just beginning to catch on.Pick up the remote and fast-forward to 2017. Video stores are dying out, the victim of automation and online streaming. The people behind the counter have been replaced by algorithms. Today a few thousand stores are left in the nation, including Howard Hughes where customers can browse more than 30,000 titles for rent downtown on Main Street.
It’s one of the largest independent video stores in the Inland Northwest, said Lauretta Campbell. “To get that same amount of access to titles online you’d need between six and eight streaming subscriptions. You would pay $60 to $80 a month, or you could come in and pay $2.50 for what you actually want.”
Campbell is the president of the Main Street Video Co-op, a not-for-profit group in the process of buying Howard Hughes Video and turning it into a cooperative. By selling $200 lifetime membership shares the group aims to collect $60,000 to buy the store from its current owners and turn it into a community-owned business. People can learn more at the Main Street Video Co-op Owner Drive Friday night at the Breakfast Club.
Campbell got involved with the grass-roots effort two years ago after learning that the current owners wanted to sell the business but could not find a buyer. As the owner of another downtown business, Hyperspud Sports, she did not want to see another empty storefront, she said.
“It’s naive to blow off Main Street. We need to recognize this is a gem. People from UI (University of Idaho), LCSC (Lewis-Clark State College), WSU (Washington State University), Schweitzer, if they have perspective people they want to hire they bring them to downtown Moscow. It’s not just about videos. It’s about, let’s keep building the quirkiness and uniqueness of Moscow. A 30-year-old store is unheard of in most towns.”
The Main Street Video Co-op is modeled after the Moscow Food Co-op and General Manager Melinda Schab is helping the new group navigate the ins and outs of the business model. The video store is not a big moneymaking business, Schab said, but it makes enough income to pay its bills.
“I think it’s important for people to know our motivation for creating the co-op to purchase the store is out of our initial group’s commitment to a thriving Main Street in Moscow and not losing the character that all our local businesses bring to our community,” Schab said.
The $60,000 will allow the cooperative to buy the store from its owners who will not make a profit on the sale, Campbell said. The amount leaves some operating capital for updates.
So far the group has earned $23,000 and plans to move forward with the contract on a payment plan. At the latest the store will make the transition by Sept. 30, Campbell said, likely sooner. The biggest change people will see is the name. The co-op plans to rehire current managers. DVDs will still be available for anyone to rent while members will receive perks like annual coupons for rentals, reduced late fees, daily deals and the ability to vote on co-op decisions.
“I believe it’s a great community resource. It’s like a library,” said Ian Pannkuk who has worked at the store for three years. “Getting what you want is a little easier with us than an internet corporation that doesn’t really take into consideration individual viewers’ desires.”
When the community takes over that will be even more true, he said.
If You Go
What: Moscow Video Co-op Owner Drive
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 24
Where: Breakfast Club, 501 S. Main St., Moscow
Of Note: Families are welcome. Local businesses will provide food, beer, wine and raffle prizes. Information about the new co-op will be presented. Moscow Community Theatre will perform scenes from its upcoming production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Check and cash donations toward the purchase of the store will be accepted.