The long-running video store’s owners say they’re ready to move on.
Madison’s cherished independent video store, Four Star Video Heaven, is seeking either a buyer or a volunteer team to take over and convert it into a non-profit, the store’s owners announced Tuesday. The announcement called Four Star’s recent move to scale back its hours a “baby step” toward some bigger and even more difficult decisions about its future. For now, the store will continue to operate as usual. The owners are also open to simply selling the store’s massive inventory of about 25,000 DVDs and Blu-Rays, which would mark the end of Four Star’s 34-year run as a crucial resource for movie lovers in Madison. Still, it seems they hope to avoid that outcome.
“We are preparing ourselves for other contingencies, but we believe passing the torch would be a good final step in fulfilling the promise we made to Madison and our customers five years ago when we bought the store through our fundraising campaign,” the owners said in their announcement.
Several video stores around the country have tried the non-profit model, including Baltimore’s Beyond Video, Portland’s Movie Madness, and Charlotte, North Carolina’s VisArt. Nonprofits have fundraising options that for-profit businesses don’t, and perhaps that’s a viable model for ensuring Madisonians can continue to access Four Star’s deep collection.
“We don’t really have a firm date picked out yet, but I would say by the end of the summer it should be apparent which way the wind is blowing,” co-owner Lewis Peterson says. There will be an email signup sheet at the store for people interested in taking part in Four Star’s future.
Four Star employees Peterson, Andy Fox, Helen Boldt, and Nick Propheter took over the store in 2014, re-organizing it as a cooperative and buying out former owner Lisa Brennan with help from the aforementioned crowdfunding campaign and a business loan. Five years later, all four owners still hold down second jobs, business has slowed, and downtown rents have continued to climb. The good news, Peterson says, is that the loan is almost paid off, and that a video store can still play an important role despite all the challenges involved.
“I think a lot of the trends that were already happening have continued—there has definitely been a rise in more specialized streaming services like Mubi, Fandor, Shudder, etc.,” Peterson says. “We definitely still have to contend with the ‘everything is online’ mentality, which isn’t strictly true. All those services are great, but they don’t really keep their titles accessible in the long term like we do. We’re definitely approaching the generation where college freshmen don’t always have a childhood memory of going to a video store, but on the other hand we have people that are third-generation customers.
“I’ve seen several articles over the last few years about how versions of movies available online can be subject to editing without notice, how they can disappear even if you have purchased a digital copy,” Peterson adds. “So I think particularly people who are dedicated to movies recognize the value of the hard copy. That can co-exist with streaming.”