Business

Bellingham video store Film Is Truth will become nonprofit

Manager Dee Dee Chapman, left, rents movies to longtime customer Anna Haskins, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, at Film is Truth in downtown Bellingham. The video rental store is becoming a nonprofit.
Manager Dee Dee Chapman, left, rents movies to longtime customer Anna Haskins, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, at Film is Truth in downtown Bellingham. The video rental store is becoming a nonprofit. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - With video rental stores disappearing across the U.S., one locally owned store is taking steps to ensure residents can access movie discs in Whatcom County.

Co-owners Emily Marston and Karl Freske have decided to convert the Film Is Truth 24 Times A Second store into a nonprofit operation, becoming a community resource for the hard-to-find foreign, obscure and independent movies. The owners plan to have the conversion to a nonprofit completed before the end of the year. As a nonprofit, Film Is Truth will have a board of directors; it hasn't been decided who will be on the board.

Customers shouldn't expect many changes to the store, which opened in 1997. The five-employee staff and the more than 15,000 movie titles will remain, said Marston. Something that is being discussed is a change in the price structure, possibly adding a tier membership system. As a nonprofit, the store, 211 W. Holly St., could add volunteers to help out during the busy evenings.

While the business is doing fine and isn't in debt, the industry is dying and the owners realize that even Film Is Truth's lifespan as a for-profit business is probably a short one. Rather than letting it limp along until it is no long a viable business and scattering the movies "into the wind" through a going-out-of-business sale, Freske said the goal is to keep the collection in more of an archive or library format for the community.

"I didn't want to simply stand here and let (the business) rot away," Freske said.

The biggest factor in the demise of video rental stores is changing technology. Streaming video has become a convenient way for people to watch movies, resulting in fewer people going to a brick-and-mortar store for a rental. The changes claimed national companies, like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, while also hitting mom-and-pop businesses. After more than 30 years in business, Rob Olason closed Fairhaven's Trek Video earlier this year.

With its vast collection of movie titles, Film Is Truth has plenty of films that can't be found on streaming video, said Dee Dee Chapman, who manages the store. The business has a customer base of film fans who want to see specific movies. The store is also a place where people can come and browse, talk to the employees and other customers about film and discovering something they wouldn't have found through streaming video.

What happens if the movie discs disappear altogether is another concern, Freske said. If the only way to access movies is through streaming, a limited number of companies will have control of what movies can be in the catalogue and what to charge. Freske believes it is important for citizens to have access to physical media, particularly given the debate around net neutrality.

In the meantime, the store is gearing up for its 17th anniversary next month. The anniversary celebration is a popular one for customers, with Marston's homemade cookies and free rental specials. Last year, Marston whipped up 1,600 cookies.

For updates on the transition, visit the store or the company's Facebook page.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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