If you want to identify a villain for the demise of Video Universe, the black hat, pointy mustache and dastardly laugh belong to Netflix.
Owner Scott Prost is closing his Robbinsdale store, which he believes is the last of its kind in the state. Video Universe survived switches from Beta to VHS, VHS to DVD and DVD to Blu-ray, Blockbuster's hegemony and Redbox, as well as Netflix's DVD-by-mail service. It even withstood the pandemic.
But with Netflix, Apple TV+ and other streamers producing movies that are not available on physical media, Prost has decided to close the store in May.
"People would come in, asking for titles and we just didn't have them. They'd say, 'Do you have that new Tom Hanks movie, 'Greyhound'? And we didn't. We couldn't get it," said Prost, who cited "Coda" and "Nomadland" as sought-after titles that were available only to stream. "There were fewer and fewer new releases and fewer people coming in to get them."
The "new release" wall attests to that. Many of its titles are not new, including "News of the World" from 2020. A "Star Trek: First Contact" poster seems to warn about the reach of Netflix with its slogan: "Resistance is futile."
Prost will sell the contents of the store and has some titles on sale already, with all movies, posters, mementos and shelvingavailable starting March 1. He's hoping everything goes by Memorial Day. When he announced the closing at the end of December, customers said they're as disappointed as he is.
"It does get sad. People come in crying," Prost said.
One of those customers is Nadia Anderson. At 22, she's part of an age group that has embraced streaming, but she's not a fan.
"My family has been going to Video Universe since before I was born," said Anderson, who has difficulty streaming at her home in Nowthen because of internet issues. "They have the largest selection, and they're so friendly. Anytime I had a question, they were on it, making sure I went away with something I'd like."
That selection of 30,000 to 40,000 titles is what Prost said he thinks will be missed most.
"We have a lot of weird stuff, foreign stuff, classics. People would come from all over for that," he said. "Many of them are out of print."
John Heimbuch found that out the hard way. The cinema production student at Minneapolis College wanted David Lynch's drama "Wild at Heart."
"It was not available on any streaming platform, to view or to rent. I could not find it," said Heimbuch, who said he values the store's knowledgeable staff and unexpected treasures. "But Video Universe had it. I keep thinking about what it means to lose these things."
So does Prost, remembering 1983, when he was hired at a competing store called Video Central. Back then, it was all about VHS tapes. They felt like an entertainment revolution.
"When it happened that movies were, for the first time, now available to be taken home and watched, it was astounding. You could watch a theatrical movie and not be at the mercy of the networks," said Prost, who was hired as Video Universe's manager in 1986 and later became the owner.
As he watched other "old school video stores" close, Prost contemplated what it means to be part of the end of an era. According to a research company survey, U.S. video and game stores declined nearly 16% last year, and there are only 667 left.
He will miss getting to know fellow movie fans.
"People would be at the 'new release' wall, talking about sports, while their kids were running around and picking movies," said Prost, whose most-rented titles include "Fargo," "Grease" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." "You get to have ongoing relationships with customers. You see their kids growing up."
One of those kids is Anderson, who often visited the store with her mom: "It's a thing in our house. We'd get coffee on the way and go to the video store."
A customer for three decades, Dan Elliott said Video Universe also seems frozen in time, with even the carpeting unchanged.
"He had Kids' Days — Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I believe — and that was a ritual when my kids were young," said Elliott, who guesses he rented 10,000 titles from Video Universe. "We would walk there from my house every week."
Thinking about the work it will take to clear out the store, Prost said, "It's really more of a video museum now. You see all the comedies from the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, 2000s, all in the same spot. Each movie is like a time capsule of when it was made."
Prost said he's glad Video Universe stuck around as long as it did, providing the biggest selection it could.
"Video had its day in the sun, I guess," he said, helping a customer bag up John Wayne DVDs for her collection. "We'll be turning the lights off on this business, pretty much. Turning the lights out on video rental in this state."