For nostalgic movie lovers who remember traversing their local rental store every Friday night in search of a good weekend watch, Willow Video is still keeping that tradition alive.
The giants of the former home video landscape, Blockbuster and Movie Gallery, shut their doors at the start of the decade when on-demand services like Netflix changed the way people accessed their entertainment.
But this local chain survived the wave of closures, now claiming to be the only rental store of it’s kind on the east side of the Fraser River.
It all began with three entertainment-loving brothers, Glen, Steve, and Erik Vilio, who opened the first incarnation of the video store 27-years ago – a mini golf emporium.
“The video rentals were secondary,” Erik Vilio remembered. “It was a mixture of golf, videos, and games.”
The first location opened it’s doors where the indoor children’s play center Go Bananas operates today – a business the brothers also own.
“It started as Willow Fun World, a name we chose because we were right next to the Willowbrook 6 movie theatre at the mall,” Vilio added.
Willow Video later moved down the street to where the Japanese restaurant Sushi Mori is now, and finally to it’s current location where the business has stayed put for the past seven years.
Today, there are two branches a renter can still borrow from, 2603 West Railway Street in Abbotsford and 19609 Willowbrook Drive in Langley.
Vilio said at the peak of their busiest time, the brother’s had eight locations across the Lower Mainland.
“It did hurt,” Vilio said about the arrival of streaming services, but the first thing he said he would tell companies like Netflix if given the chance would be “thank you.”
“They killed the other stories. Everyone else shut down and we got their customers,” he explained.
For those who drive by and ponder just how long its been since they’ve entered a video store – then wonder how it still manages to open it’s doors… Vilio said the key has been variety.
“Maybe 25 percent of our business is movies, which realistically was cut down by only 10 percent when streaming started.”
The remainder of sales comes from video games, which Vilio said is an ever-increasing and growing part of their business.
“There is a big interest in retro video games, which is something we offered since day one. Super Nintendo is really popular. We do one week gaming rentals and something new were doing is music and vinyl sales. So that all picks up where the movie rentals dropped off,” Vilio said.
The primary customer base found frequenting the store are families looking for films they can all sit down and watch together.
“People who grew up coming in here and have been coming for 20-plus years are now bringing their families,” Vilio added. “It tends to be young families or customers over the age of 35.”
The teenage and twenty-something crowd who used to drive these types of businesses decades ago are instead staying home for their entertainment.
But that comes as no surprise, as the secret to Willow Video’s longevity lies in the traditions of those who lived rental culture in it’s heyday.
Employee Braden Thurston said it was just one of those jobs he had always dream about.
“It’s a very nineties job,” Thurston laughed. “It’s unique and close to home, but very community oriented.”
Though the landscape has changed both in and outside the business – hats, toys, and collectibles also take up a large portion of the shelving space – Vilio said their plan for the future is that, simply, they’re not going anywhere.
For more information on Willow Video and their selection, people can visit willowfunworld.com
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