British Columbia

Meet the movie lovers who refuse to let DVDs die

Darren Gay is lucky and unlucky all at once, which is probably why he’s still in business. 

Black Dog Video in Vancouver has outlasted Blockbuster. Can it outlast Netflix, too?

Josie Boyce, video clerk, left, and Darren Gay, owner, sit behind the desk at Black Dog Video in Vancouver on Thursday, July 11, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Darren Gay is lucky and unlucky all at once, which is probably why he's still in business. 

His store — Black Dog Video — was a survivor long before Netflix and other streaming services started wiping out the rental industry.

A fire in the apartment above his shop on Cambie Street in 2004 destroyed his rare VHS collection.

DVDs were replacing tapes at the time, so Gay used the insurance money to invest in a technology upgrade.

"All of a sudden, we were just a DVD store," he said. "I guess it sucked at the time, but in hindsight, it worked out pretty well for us."

Gay felt his good luck outweighed the bad, so he doubled down and opened a second location on Commercial Drive.

Take a virtual spin around Black Dog Video.

Canada Line

Not long after the fire, many of Black Dog's neighbouring businesses struggled or folded as construction crews tore up Cambie Street to build the Canada Line.

Gay's clientele was mostly local, so many of his customers didn't mind leaving their cars at home to walk to his store.

"It was a drag as it went on way too long, and yeah, it was hell," he said. "It was a little challenging to get through but it was fine."

Shortly after the construction project was completed, Gay's competitors — from Blockbuster to the local Vancouver gem Videomatica — all closed their doors.

Kamal Sharma is pictured at his video store, Kamal's Video Palace in Surrey, British Columbia on Friday, July 12, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Glory days

There are still a handful of movie stores in Metro Vancouver that cater to Asian and South Asian customers. (And yes, you can still find places that rent adult films, too).

Kamal Sharma got into the Bollywood movie rental business in Vancouver in 1979 and he's run his current shop — Kamal's Video Palace — for the last 25 years in Surrey.

"We used to have lineups of people from the back door," he said. "At one time, we'd have maybe 100 to 250 people in the store."

Kamal Sharma got into the movie rental business in Vancouver nearly 40 years ago and moved his store to Surrey in the mid 1990s. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Death of rentals

When theatres showed up in Surrey that played Bollywood movies, Sharma says his business took a bit of a hit. Then, online piracy started wiping out many of his competitors.

"My God, everything started changing," he said. "That is when we realized, you know, that this business is obviously not what it used to be."

Most of Sharma's money comes from his event promotion business. He stopped renting movies about four years ago but still sells them, mostly because he feels attached to his collection.

Sharma won't even get rid of his waist-high stack of VHS tapes, even though no one has rented one in years.

"They are quite close to my heart," he said. "There's some great memories."

Kay Cahill, the website and community development librarian at the Vancouver Public Library, stands in the DVD section at the downtown branch in Vancouver on Thursday, July 11, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Still kicking

Even at the Vancouver Public Library, streaming services are replacing DVDs. Still, VPL director of collections and technology Kay Cahill says they lent out about 1.6 million DVDs in 2018.

"Certainly, we have no plans to take DVD out of our collections," she said. "We spend about $350,000 dollars annually maintaining the DVD collection and we intend to continue to do that while the content is available."

Clearly, there are many people who aren't ready to trade in their DVD player for a Netflix subscription just yet, which is encouraging for Darren Gay.

He believes that as long as DVDs hang on — and his lucky and unlucky streak continues — Black Dog Video can hang on, too.

Darren Gay shows you why he's still in business after all his competitor's have closed

CBC visits Vancouver's last DVD rental store

4 years ago
Duration 1:42
Catch up with Darren Gay, owner of Black Dog Video.


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