There are easier ways to rent a movie, Chris Giles admits, but he prefers the experience he gets from his weekly visits to Video Paradise.
With a bright flamingo on the storefront, vintage arcade games, movie-buff banter from the staff and more than 30,000 titles to browse, Giles has been a regular for more than four years, which he admits is kind of amazing.
“I am surprised this place is still around,” Giles said. “But it’s great. I want to help keep it open.”
The independent video store at the northwest corner of Alma School and Warner roads in Chandler outlasted once-movie-rental behemoths Blockbuster and Hollywood Video and so far withstood Redbox kiosks and online services such as Netflix.
“Business has actually never been better,” said Marshall Hawkins, who owns the store with his wife, Gina.
Hawkins bought Video Paradise in 2005. The store first opened in 1992.
The acquisition nearly nine years ago wasn’t the first time Hawkins tried to buy the 12,000-square-foot store. Though the first time was when he worked for Hollywood Video.
“I was brought to Phoenix to open Hollywood stores throughout the Valley and we tried to buy this place,” Hawkins said. “But they didn’t want to sell, even after we told them we were going to put one of our stores on either side of them.”
Hawkins left Hollywood Video in 2004 — he saw the writing on the wall — and a year later heard Video Paradise’s original owners were looking to sell and leave the state.
“I’m just a fan of movies and have a passion for them,” said Hawkins, who wasn’t worried about the competition from the big chains when he purchased Video Paradise. “Everyone thinks technology killed the video store, but it was actually debt. Blockbuster and Hollywood had too much debt ... and they were too late to react to the technology.”
That said, Hawkins didn’t think his pet project would be around nine years later.
“I’ve said this from the beginning: ‘We have two more years.’ But I say that every year,” Hawkins said.
Video Paradise’s selection, from the latest releases to B-horror films to old TV series and video games, played a big role in the store’s success.
“They get stuff before Redbox and have movies you can’t get anywhere else,” Janice Ortiz said as she made her way around the whole store Wednesday afternoon.
It was Ortiz’s second visit to Video Paradise this week and she left with four movies, as she does each week. Ortiz was able to keep the movies three days (five for non-new releases). It is that sort of attention to its customers that helped Video Paradise stick around.
Store staff during the recent recession noticed many regulars weren’t coming in as often. One of the clerks came up with the idea to offer five catalogue movies (not the new releases) for $5 for five days.
“It was something to do right by our customers and it ended up being great for business,” Hawkins said.
Video Paradise also offers teachers free rentals on movies that can be used for educational purposes. Hawkins’ crew also will clean those scratched DVDs or Blu-Ray discs that sometimes come out of a Redbox kiosk. For free.
“I get it,” Hawkins said. “Redbox is really convenient. I have two daughters and when they want a movie and we’re at the grocery store I go to Redbox. And I own a video store.
“But I think, and people have shown me, they want to support local businesses. So many of the businesses in this shopping center are locally owned and they’re all doing pretty well, as far as I can tell.”
And that is what ultimately may put Hawkins out of business: When the economy improves to the point the entire center is full, Video Paradise’s lease is going to increase beyond its means.
But that time hasn’t come yet and so Video Paradise, with an atmosphere that Hawkins described using movies “Clerks” and “High Fidelity,” will continue to offer what many in Chandler have enjoyed for more than 20 years.
“It will be a sad day if this place ever goes away,” Giles said.