Portage Family Video closing its doors

March 29, 2019

On Thursday afternoon, Family Video in Portage was packed with unhappy customers.

They weren’t unhappy with the videos and games they’ve rented, or the customer service they’ve received, over the 13 years that store has been in business at 2666 New Pinery Road.

Rather, they said they were unhappy because the business is closing its doors.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Theresa Stanford of Portage, as she picked up several DVDs that had been marked down for quick sale.

Lalena Fries, the store’s assistant manager, said she learned Wednesday that the building had been sold and Family Video was going out of business.

Steve Sobiek, the city of Portage’s director of business development and planning, confirmed that the Family Video building has been sold, and an automotive parts business is planned for the location, with a likely opening date sometime in May.

On Thursday, Fries spent much of her time placing discounted price tags on items. Everything is for sale, she said. That includes not only games and videos, but also items like vintage movie posters (a black-and-white one of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean is marked at $9.99) and black “Family Video” directors’ chairs (price to be determined).

Closing date is April 23, Fries said, but the last day to rent videos will be Monday.

The rental period is five days.

“So everybody should come in and pay their late fees,” she said.

Thomas and Jean Saeck of Portage had come in hoping to rent the movie “Mary Queen of Scots,” but all the copies were checked out. So they settled for “The Bookshop” and “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.” The Grizzly Adams movie, released in 1974, was in the “old” movies section, and available at a discounted rental.

“You know, you can get a lot of these movies on streaming or Netflix,” Jean Saeck observed.

“Yeah, but that’s so impersonal,” Thomas Saeck replied.

“But I guess that’s what we’re going to do from now on,” Jean said.

The video rental industry is fading fast.

News outlets around the world have featured recent stories of the last operating Blockbuster Video rental emporium still in business, located in Bend, Oregon. Once, there were 9,000 Blockbuster stores worldwide.

Competition from streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Fire and Apple TV have decimated the video rental business, which emerged in the 1980s with the popularity of VHS video tapes (and the short-lived Beta video format).

There’s also competition from self-service video rental kiosks like Redbox. There are three Redbox outlets in Portage – an indoor facility at Walmart Supercenter, 2950 New Pinery Road; and outdoor kiosks at Kwik Trip, 1223 E. Wisconsin St., and Walgreens, 2700 New Pinery Road (just across the street from Family Video).

Fries said there are any number of reasons why Family Video has stayed in business in Portage as long as it did.

“We have loyal customers,” she said. “People like to come in and browse, and pick out their videos.”

Sobiek said nobody is more unhappy to lose Family Video than he is.

“I love going to Family Video,” he said. “I rent three or four videos a week.”

Although Portage has several auto parts stores – including Weaver’s, O’Reilly, AutoZone and NAPA – Sobiek said it’s good for Portage to have competitive local businesses.

“Our goal as city leaders is to grow Portage’s tax base,” he said. “It’s certainly better than having vacant storefronts.”