The curtain has come down on Napa’s last movie rental store.
The Blockbuster on California Boulevard will temporarily shut its doors Wednesday and Thursday, then reopen Friday at 10 a.m. for a liquidation sale, an employee at the location said Monday. The store will close for good sometime in late September.
The employee, who asked not to be identified because the person was not authorized to speak to the media, said approximately seven employees work at the Napa store. Once the store closes, the closest Blockbuster will be found in Sonoma.
On Monday, frequent customer Leslie Hamilton was dismayed to hear of the closure from a store employee.
“There’s no other movie rentals in town,” Hamilton said. “Now I’m going to have to rely on Redbox,” which discourages more than single-night rentals and has limited selection, she said.
With no TV service at her Napa home, she watches a lot of movies, Hamilton said. And she means a lot.
According to the Blockbuster computer, Hamilton has rented 1,493 movies over the past three years.
Besides the films, she will miss the staff. “These people are my friends,” she said. “I hate it,” she said of the closing.
“This is the last of the Mohicans,” said another Blockbuster customer, Rachael Clark of Napa. “It’s a bummer. The clerks there were amazing. They know our style, our preference. They were always looking out for me.”
Clark said she knows she can rent from Netflix or another source, but for her “it’s not just about the movie, it’s about the personal experience” at the store.
She’s not as familiar with streaming videos online, Clark said. “There are still a lot of people that don’t have Internet access,” she noted. “We’re still old school and want to rent.”
From the mid '80s to the mid '90s, Napa was home to more than a dozen mom and pop movie rental stores sprinkled throughout town, including the Box Office, Movie Time, Pick-A-Flick, Peters Video and J & P Videos, along with the larger chains such as Hollywood Video, Wherehouse and Blockbuster.
For many Napans, heading to the closest video rental store in search of the latest new release — first on VHS and then later on DVD — was a Friday night ritual.
Video rental stores proved to be the kind of business local entrepreneurs could embrace. Between 1985 and 1995, Tom Trzesniewski, now a city planning commissioner, and his wife owned two video rental stores called the Box Office.
“It was a lucrative business during its heyday,” Trzesniewski said Tuesday. “There were plenty of people who wanted to sell you video tapes” to start a movie rental business, he said.
His own children and other high school students worked at the store, he said. “At one time we probably had eight employees full-time.”
However, in the early '90s, as competition grew and technology evolved, “We started making less and less money,” he said. “It was becoming more and more obvious” the business could not go on. “You could see the light going out at the end of the tunnel,” Trzesniewski said.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Mike Peters of Peters Video. Beginning in 1986, Peters and his wife Anita owned three video stores, one in Napa’s River Park Shopping Center and the other two in St. Helena and Calistoga. The last Peters Video stores closed in 2010.
“All of us were pioneers so to speak,” he said of the other video storeowners in the area. At one point there were three or four other video rental businesses in St. Helena alone, he said. And the town supported them. “On a Saturday night, we’d be out of movies, it was that busy,” Peters said. “It’s hard to believe now.”
Now retired, Peters said he enjoyed the job.
“We had great employees and we got a chance to meet everybody in town over the years,” he recalled. But the eventual downturn in the industry was no surprise, he said.
“You could see the business was slowing.” As Walmart and Amazon.com started selling inexpensive DVDs people started buying movies outright instead of renting, he said.
“Technology killed the business,” he said. Today Peters has embraced new viewing methods. The couple watches movies on Comcast on demand. “We can dial up whatever we want to see without leaving the house.”
Tuesday was the last day customers could rent a movie at Blockbuster, said the store staff. Come Friday, everything in the store will be for sale, including movies, games, posters, snacks, computers, furniture and fixtures. Blockbuster employees weren’t sure but they estimated the California Boulevard store had been open for approximately 15 years.
Besides Blockbuster, the other chain video store in town, Hollywood Video on Lincoln Avenue, closed in 2010. But for those who still want to rent a film in person, Napa is home to approximately 23 Redbox movie rental stations, mostly located in grocery, drug and convenience stores, according to Redbox.
Those kiosks offer a pre-set selection of newer releases. A number of smaller grocery or convenience markets in Napa likely still offer smaller selections of movie rentals.
Dish Network Corp. told the Associated Press in January it planned to close about 300 Blockbuster stores across the country, losing about 3,000 employees. Blockbuster is owned by Dish Network.
Company spokesman John Hall said at the time that the closures would leave about 500 Blockbuster locations in the U.S. Dish Network also shuttered about 500 underperforming Blockbuster locations in 2012, according to the Associated Press.
Colorado-based Dish Network bought the then-bankrupt video rental chain for $320 million in March 2011. Media representatives from Blockbuster did not reply to an e-mail request for comment by Tuesday afternoon.