'All about the people;' MovieMart owner reflects on decades of community

40 years of MovieMart

When Denis Walsh first opened MovieMart’s doors, VHS tapes cost nearly $100 apiece.

It was December 1982, and Walsh had purchased 50 or 60 movies from a distributor in Seattle to stock his first video rental business — a small 600-square-foot shop in North Kamloops’ Fortune Shopping Centre.

Fast-forward to 2021 and MovieMart’s collection — now totalling 25,000 films — has changed hands for the first time in its nearly 40 years in operation.

Walsh said the most rewarding part about running the video rental store was the relationships he created over the decades.

“Other than having access to all these movies, and being able to choose which ones to buy, I would just say it was all about the people,” Walsh said.

“I had incredible staff, and you really create relationships with staff, and even customers. Even to probably today, I still have people that I met through the video business. It was just that human connection, the community part, it was a real big part of the community.”

Walsh said there were about nine MovieMart stores over the course of 40 years, starting with locations on the North Shore and Valleyview, Westsyde, Sahali and along Tranquille.

“It was a real weekly tradition almost, for families to come out and rent videos on Friday, Saturday, and there was the people that were just fanatics that almost were in every second day, sometimes every day,” he said.

“It was a whole different scene back then. And it lasted for, you know, probably at least 20 years really strong.”

Back in the day, Walsh said, video tapes were very valuable — so much so that they were often targeted by thieves.

He said one person went into MovieMart’s bathroom and climbed up into the ceiling, where he waited for nightfall before descending into the store to snatch up a number of tapes.

“Back then it was it was a very popular product, and people would do all kinds of things to try to get to it," Walsh said.

He said at that time, the competition was so fierce that other video rental chains would enact what amounted to turf wars — owners would try to buy up stores or run each other out of town.

Walsh said he got tired of the game and sold his North Shore store to Movie Gallery on one condition.

“They allowed me one section of town, which was the downtown core," he said.

"There wasn’t enough residential population downtown at that time. So I agreed, and I sold them the store, and I moved the store down here to Seymour. … Since then, I’ve been in three different locations in the downtown core.”

The final MovieMart was located at St. Paul Street and Fourth Avenue. It closed last month.

Walsh said the most challenging part of owning a video rental store was the competition, especially with large chains that came into town.

However, he said Kamloops residents were always supportive of the local business.

“People develop relationships with the staff. And movies are very specific, similar to music tastes. So you'd find your staff member that you really kind of related to, they related to your tastes in movies,” he said.

“If you had great staff and a location, and you bought your movies properly, you could outlast the others.”

Walsh said he has wondered whether MovieMart has been the longest continuously running video store in the world, with nearly 40 years under its belt.

It probably isn't — but it's close.

Dave Taylor, who co-owns 20th Century Flicks — a video rental store in Bristol, U.K. — said his business opened sometime around March 1982.

Taylor said in an email to Castanet he passes on his best wishes and warm congratulations to MovieMart, regardless of opening date.

“I know that if anyone is still doing this, it’s not for the money,” he said.

Taylor told Castanet his biggest challenge owning the video shop is facing a future closure — especially as the technology landscape has shifted, and rentals are no longer as popular as they once were.

“What I dread most is writing that email," he said.

"I've seen it so many times in Bristol, like really loved businesses send out these horrible newsletters saying, ‘We’ve had a great time, but we're closing up’ — and I never want to write one of them."

Taylor said the most rewarding part is the community the store attracts.

Throughout COVID-19 lockdowns, Taylor said the value of films — and the video rental store — became clear, as people would come in, rent movies and spend time talking about the films they picked up.

“People were just renting them out and showing them to their family, and taking stock of their lives and just reflecting on their childhoods and things that meant something to them,” he said.

“All these films started to represent just these tiny little episodes in lots of different people's lives. And that was quite striking.”

As Walsh reflects back on his time owning the business, he said the video store was not just important as a community hub, but a place where people could find entertainment that could also teach them about other cultures and lifestyles.

“I think movies are very important, especially the ones that are really well done. They really open our eyes to what else is out there in the world. And they kind of show us they bring us together too,” he said.

“All over the world, everybody pretty well has the same ideals and the same goals and somewhat the same values too. The exposure is really phenomenal, I think, from movies.”

MovieMart’s collection has been transferred over to the Kamloops Film Society.

Dusan Magdolen, executive director for KFS, said the society is getting set up to open a rental store inside the Paramount Theatre.

Some duplicates will be put up for sale at the end of September, and Magdolen said he hopes to have the films ready for rental in October.

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