Customers trickled into First Choice Video in Wilmington Monday, each greeted by a small, shaggy white dog. Abby, the 10-year-old the Lhasa Apso, has welcomed customers into the Rombach Avenue store for years.
“She’s more of a fixture than I am,” said Jen Andorfer, the owner of the dog and the rental store.
But, some local residents may not agree Andorfer’s not a fixture herself. Especially after her announcement via Facebook Monday morning that after 24 years of business, she plans to close the store in March.
The news spread quickly between the online post and Andorfer’s “new decorations” — bright red signs posted on the exterior windows and all four walls that read “Store Closing.” By mid-afternoon, like a funeral procession, customers walked up to the counter one-by-one to offer their condolences.
In a society increasingly moving toward digital entertainment distribution, Andorfer has struggled to keep the business going for the last few years. Everything began to go downhill when DHL left town, she said.
“I’m not bitter. I’m grateful for what Wilmington has given me,” Andorfer responded. “What’s happened to the industry is people are starting to undervalue what we have to offer. They want everything not only discounted, but free. We offer a service that costs to operate.”
The industry was a much different story in 1989 when Andorfer first opened the store. It’s the only job she’s ever had, since it was also her first job as a 16-year-old in Springfield.
“My first love is the movies,” she professed.
And it’s obvious. Her knowledge of film is immense, so it’s impossible for her to choose just one favorite. Among her top 10 are the “emotional” titles such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Moulin Rouge,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Fight Club,” “The World’s Fastest Indian,” “Legends of the Fall” and anything directed by John Hughes.
Business peaked in the early 1990s. At one time, she operated stores in Springfield and Xenia, attended industry conventions to mingle with B-list stars and employed 13 people in Wilmington.
Currently, the payroll includes just three employees. Despite cutting down employees’ and operating hours, turning off heaters, renegotiating rent, cutting back on shipments and putting 60 hours behind the counter herself each week (not including weekend accounting work), it hasn’t been enough.
She plans to sell off everything that’s not nailed to the floor. Customers will still be able to rent titles through January, but February will be liquidation only. The last day of business will likely be in mid-March.
She hopes to remain in Wilmington, where she has lived for the last four years and become involved with community activities, especially those involving veterans. She has been a leader in putting together fundraising events for veterans such as the now annual “Honoring Our Military Every Day” (HOME), as well as one in April 2012 called Help From Home, which specifically organized for Cpl. Josh Sams, a Wilmington Marine wounded in Afghanistan.
Photos of Sams and other veterans decorate the store, as well as American flags and baskets for folks to donate money for military care shipments.
She reminds her customers to thank a veteran — something you don’t get at a RedBox or through Netflix.
One of Andorfer’s fears is that many classic films will go to the wayside, forgotten because no one has access to them. The kiosks do not offer the selection of a brick and mortar store such as First Choice Video, she said.
“Films like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Casablanca’ — I could go on and on about some great films you’ll never find on Netflix… So many films you’re going to struggle to ever go out and find again, to introduce your children to,” she said.
You’ll miss stuff like the original “Godzilla”, in all of its “cheesy and horrible” glory, she said. Redbox doesn’t carry “Godzilla”.
Stuff like a movie suggestion, tailored to fit one’s tastes based off their previous rentals. Redbox doesn’t do that.
And, stuff like bartering a tin of homemade Christmas cookies in exchange for wiping out some late rental fees. Redbox won’t do that.
“I took the cookies — absolutely,” she said. “Where else can you do that?”
Perhaps nowhere after March.