Bucking the trend

IT’S been about two years since video shop owner Mel McInerney took a wage, but she refuses to close, despite living in an online age.

She says customers taking out a membership at Network Video in Mt Hawthorn often ask: “You’re not going to close on me are you? The last few stores I signed-up to shut down shortly after”.

But McInerney says she’s committed to the old-school business, explaining that its not the movies, but the store’s long-term customers and staff that keep her going.

“I think people do expect me to be some film buff, and I have to say I’m far from it. This is my childhood DVD store”.

Nostalgia

About five years ago McInerney heard the shop was up for sale and wanted to buy it, but she faced some initial resistance from her accountant husband.

“I’m of the ‘if you build it, they will come’ school,” Ms McInerney says, “and he’s saying ‘it’s not the right time in this economy’,” but nostalgia eventually won out.

Even in 2018 there’s a few things people like about a video store: loyal customers enjoy chatting to staff, getting movie tips and sometimes a hug from Mel, or recommendations a bit more nuanced than Netflix’s automated “Because You Watched…” algorithm.

• Network Video owner Mel McInerney: a physical retailer in a virtual age. Photo by Steve Grant

When the Voice was down at the store taking photos, Peter Chance—one of the regulars Ms McInerney is on first-name terms with—wandered by to drop off a few titles. A cousin of former state minister Kim Chance, he says it’s the last convenient video store around, and well worth the 10-minute walk because he’s not all that much into computers.

Network Video also has more than 47,000 titles, while Netflix currently has 3,844 movies and TV shows, and they come and go as licensing agreements expire.

The foreign and obscure movies also keeps customers coming through the door.

Business at the store improved in 2015 when the makers of Dallas Buyers Club pursued thousands of people who’d illegally downloaded pirate copies of the movie.

Their attempt to get customer information out of iiNet ultimately fizzled (the company didn’t want to put down a $600,000 bond to go ahead), but it spooked many pirates into going legit.

Community hangout 

McInerney says that if people don’t pay for movies, eventually good films won’t get made.

“What I have to remind people is: what if your child wants to become an actor or a musician, and here you are ripping off music or a film without paying for it?”

But McInerney says she’s looking into other business ideas that she could add to the shop to keep it viable into the future.

“I’ve got this funky place in mind: a 50s diner.”

She wants it to be a community hangout, where young people can feel relaxed, even if they’re not buying anything, with the diner side of things making it viable.

The location’s still up in the air, but she’d love to still be in Mt Hawthorn.

“With the new venture, if I can take a wage, there doesn’t have to be a profit on top of that,” she says. There is much more to life than being some bigwig driving a top Mercedes, having a flash boat and house. For me it’s about creating jobs, that’s beneficial not just to my local community but everyone.”

by DAVID BELL

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