“When did you know?” was a tough question.
The easy answer was Monday, April 29; that’s when corporate told him their time had come, but he knew there was another answer.
A sadder one, in the back of his mind for months — long enough he’d decided not to worry about it until later.
Jamison Roberts is from Columbia, and he’s spent nearly half a decade managing the Family Video at 340 Campbellsville Bypass.
Before he worked there, he was a regular customer, making the almost hour-long round trip often.
In the winter of 2018, a “For Lease” sign went up on the signpost shared by his store and the Tobacco Barn.
“Our contract wasn’t up ‘til, well, it wasn’t set to be up ‘til December,” said Roberts, his store’s sudden closing still feeling like a surprise on Saturday, May 4, five days into their liquidation sale.
“I came in on Monday, and they said, ‘Hey, you have three and a half weeks left,’ and like, I was just over there,” he gestured to a shelf that had been full of new releases he was “pulling,” the same way he did every Monday morning, replacing last week’s releases with new ones.
“I think they [Family Video] expanded so much — they’ve expanded and expanded — that it’s gotten to the point where they’re having to come back down and get it more efficient than what it was,” Roberts said.
When asked if he felt the closing was inevitable, he sighed, talking more about the company’s new strategy.
“What they’re trying to do is get rid of all the lease stores, which is what we are, then try their best to keep the stores where they own the property,” he said.
He went on to discuss the iconic Family Video store design, building wider rather than deeper, with a door to the back located in the store’s center.
He said the odd floor plan of Campbellsville’s Family Video, which first opened Aug. 6, 2010, along with the fact it was previously a Movie Gallery before straight-line winds demolished its roof, made it obvious their storefront was leased.
NAI Isaac, the company listing the building for lease, currently has payments listed at $15 per square foot per year. With around 4,000 square feet of retail space, those lease payments shake out to around $60,000 per year. That’s $5,000 per month, not including fees.
Add to that the cost of utilities, payroll, merchandise and more and it becomes apparent why the location could no longer turn a profit.
Raising prices wasn’t an option either, as digital storefronts and Redbox set the price customers expect to pay for a DVD or game rental.
What both of those lack, though, is a human element.
“The best and the biggest benefit over every other option, and why most people come in, is because they want to know what’s good,” Roberts said. “You remember when the posters were over there,” he gestured towards the front entrance, “and people would always ask: ‘Which of these are good?’ Or, ‘What have you seen?’ Whereas with Redbox, you get just a snippet of a review from somebody you might’ve never heard of.”
Roberts says ‘What’s good’ is, above everything else, what his customers want to know.
They don’t want to waste their money on a movie they’ll hate, and they don’t want to sift through reviews online. They especially don’t want to comb through user reviews on digital storefronts like the Google Play Store or iTunes, and find it’s easier to ask the person at Family Video’s front counter instead.
Roberts also points out that a lot of people want to “touch it, see it, read all about it” in person. DVD cases almost always have a description of the movie on the back, as well as a collection of scenes and a list of features included on the disc.
You don’t get that same experience online, or at a Redbox.
He also believes, one day, people are going to regret ditching physical media.
“What’s the saying? You don’t know how much you love something until it’s gone,” he said.
Roberts’ coworkers have already lined up work elsewhere, but he still wasn’t sure what path he would take once Family Video finally closed. One thing he was sure of, though, was how much he’ll miss working in Campbellsville.
“I was in college, and the only thing to really do was visit the theater,” Roberts said. “I saw Family Video was hiring and thought, ‘Hey, I like movies. This job sounds alright.’ And that was four years ago.”
He went on to explain how he didn’t really know anyone in town since he drove the half hour to work from Columbia, but that’s changed, and now he can’t go anywhere without someone saying hey.
“I like it, I appreciate it and I love seeing customers I’ve talked to over the years when I’m at Walmart or the gas station or whatever,” Roberts said, recalling some of his favorite customers.
“We have — or had, I guess — a discount program for students who got A’s on their end-of-the-year report cards,” he explained. “Seeing all the kids get so excited, renting all the movies they wanted and then coming back next summer to do it all over again … it’s just been nice to see them excited year after year.”
As much as Roberts was going to miss the store, though, his customers felt the same way.
Bryant Floyd, of Campbellsville, and the rest of his family were regulars at Family Video. They said they were ‘shocked’ when they heard about the store’s closing.
“I came to return my movies and couldn’t get in,” Floyd said. “It was closed, and we just … when we return movies we always rent more. We weren’t just weekly customers. Sometimes, we were in here daily.”
Kat Baker, also of Campbellsville, was a different kind of regular.
“I always come here to buy movies because they’re five to 10 dollars cheaper than a brand new copy at Walmart. It sucks they’re closing,” she said.
“It stinks,” added Sally Baker, Kat’s mother. “You can’t say in the newspaper that it sucks, even though it does. When we found out about it a few days ago, we were like, ‘Really?’”
These regular customers were among the people taking part in the store’s liquidation sale, where newer releases were being sold for cheap and old classics were sold for even cheaper.
“I was worried about coming up here for the sale because I’ll go broke,” Sally said, adding that she and her daughter would tend to buy five or six movies at a time.
The mother-daughter duo also owns several TV shows on DVD and was looking to fill holes in their collection while they were there.
That put Jamison Roberts in the mind of the part of the customer base he sees the most: people who can’t have — or don’t want — internet access.
“You think, ‘It’s 2019, everybody’s got internet,’ but that’s not the case,” he said. “A lot of them don’t have cable and don’t have satellite, either.”
Roberts said it’s staggering just how large a portion of the store’s clientele was made up of people who hadn’t jumped on the online bandwagon or simply can’t afford internet.
“Why would they sign a contract for all that — TV or internet contracts are expensive — when they can just stop in and rent whatever they want to watch?”
He noted that, even though Family Video is closing, he knows movies and TV are still going to be an integral part of our culture.
“The media isn’t changing; the systems for delivering it are,” he said.
When asked how he intends to get his entertainment fix now, Roberts said he had a Hulu subscription for television, but he might have to start using Redbox for movies.
“Only for the smaller things,” he clarified. “I’ll try to see the blockbusters in theaters.”
Family Video in Campbellsville is scheduled to close its doors on or before May 25, 2019.