A sight that many haven't seen in over a decade: a vista of video rentals, requiring much inspection and deliberation before a choice is made. Movie-themed murals, hand-painted in the early 2000s, hang above, at That’s Entertainment, in St. Catharines. JENICA HRYSKO

Niagara’s remaining two video rental stores are full of nostalgia

We live in the Age of Streaming. Anyone with television or internet access can view an unlimited number of TV shows and movies for a fraction of the cost of renting them from brick-and-mortar video stores. Blockbuster has long since gone bust. But two independently owned businesses in Niagara have outlived the trend of going digital.

That’s Entertainment, a 14,000- square-foot movie and game rental store in St. Catharines, welcomes customers at the door with the smell of popcorn. The black-and-white checkered floor and letterboard sign displaying the weekly top ten rentals is reminiscent of the ‘90s. Though they’ve gone through aesthetic changes since they opened in 1989, That’s Entertainment lives on with the ideology that the experience outweighs convenience.

“You can’t do just one thing — that’s what’s caused Jumbo Video and Blockbuster to fold,” says manager Greg Switzer. “They didn’t have new, used, video games, a 30-foot cooler filled with every type of pop you can imagine. Variety is what keeps people coming back.”

Switzer has been working at That’s Entertainment since it opened 30 years ago, when he wore a pager and a South Park tie. He hasn’t noticed much of a decline in business since the introduction of streaming services.

“People spend more time looking for something to watch on Netflix than actually watching something,” he says. “It’s cool and shiny until it starts buffering.”

Switzer asserts that when services such as Netflix add new titles, they usually remove some of the less popular ones. That’s Entertainment boasts some 8,500 DVD and BluRay movies, some mainstream, some cult classics.

Meanwhile, 30 or so kilometers to the south, Bonanza Video of Port Colborne, formerly a Jumbo Video, still offers their popcorn for free with every rental. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, a display of romantic comedies encourages couples to cozy up with a movie.

But Bonanza has also had to adapt to the changing times. Previously vacant counter space is taken up with gently used knick knacks for sale. Instead of using Canada Post, they keep their customers updated on new releases and deals through their Facebook page.

Manager Samantha Roy says that business has slowed down, especially in the last year, with the introduction of the Android Box and Disney+.

“We have our loyal customers in town,” Roy says. “The ones who will be coming until we close.”

Behind the privacy dividers in the depths of both stores there is another form of entertainment, one that has been largely lost to the internet. The draw to seek out physical forms of adult video is rooted in both privacy concerns and lack of internet access. You have to purchase these titles though, they don’t want them back after viewing.

The last two rental stores in Niagara have refused to become relics of a dying industry. Whether it is the nostalgia, the staff, or simply adapting to the times, neither That’s Entertainment or Bonanza Video plans on letting the credits roll soon.