BELLINGHAM - Rob Olason knew his days of running a neighborhood video rental store were numbered, but he's thankful that his customers supported it as long as they did.
After more than 30 years in business, Olason has decided to close Trek Video in Fairhaven. The last rentals will be Saturday, May 10. He will then begin an inventory sale Wednesday, May 14. He expects the sale, which will include thousands of movies on DVD and Blu-Ray, to be finished by the end of June.
The store's impending closure is for the same reason that led to the closure of thousands of similar businesses in recent years: New technology, particularly streaming video, has changed the way people watch movies and television shows. For Olason, the slow-down began in 2008 when the recession hit. In his experience with economic downturns, he thought business would pick up after two or three years. Rentals didn't return to the same numbers, however, and he realized many of his customers had moved on.
"We developed a good fan base, but it was not enough to avoid the (overall) erosion of customers," Olason said.
Focusing on those hard-to-find foreign films and documentary requests to go along with the mainstream hits helped him stay in business longer than many other stores, particularly the national chains.
It also helped that customers felt it was a good community gathering spot and were encouraged to hang out and talk about the movies. That is reflected on Trek Video's Facebook page: When Olason announced he was closing the store, several customers and former employees posted memories about the regular interactions they had over the years.
Renting videos today is much different than the 1990s, when he said three check-out stations were in full operation on weekends. Last year when he replaced the computers, he only did it for one station.
Olason does share some concerns about where the movie business is going as discs disappear. He said video rental stores represented choice, as stores succeeded or failed based on what customers wanted in their neighborhood. With the trend of streaming companies buying the rights to catalogs of movies, it is unclear to him whether customers will have the same kind of leverage. Online options could become so segmented, he said, that consumers may end up needing more than one streaming product in order to have choices.
"At this point, if you appreciate rentals, I would go to the two remaining places in Bellingham," he said, referring to Film is Truth in the downtown district and Crazy Mike's Video in the Lakeway Center.
Overall, though, Olason said he feels fortunate to have the chance to be a Fairhaven business owner for more than 30 years. He originally started in Fairhaven with the Picture Show Theatre, then the store Picture Show Video that eventually became Trek Video. What was particularly interesting to him was being able to bring in films from other parts of the world, to have the chance to bring other world views into Bellingham through cinema.
After closing Trek Video, he plans to stay in the area.
"I want to continue working and being a part of this community," he said.