Video stores blockbuster take continues

Jose de Freitas, owner Sharon Markovitz and Khalil Adam at their video store in Sea Point. The store has recently changed locations but has been an institution in the area for the last 26 years.

A long-time Sea Point family video store has survived difficult times for the movie industry.

Sharon Markovitz opened the Movie Magic store 26 years ago, in 1991. It has survived the conversion from VHS to DVDs, streaming, piracy and even relocation, and Sharon says she still sees a bright future for the family-orientated business, which moved to its new spot in Sea Point Main Road at the end of last month.

Sharon got the idea to open a store because she was a customer at the Movie Magic in the Gardens Centre for many years and the owner asked if she’d be interested in opening a shop in Sea Point.

“It took us a year to get started, and we got the premises in Nedbank Centre. It was a great thing to do.”

Sharon was 52 when the store opened, and before that, she had worked in an office, so the video business was a big change.

“We started with VHS tapes, and they were very expensive. We changed over to DVDs in the early 90s.”

At first, they had to buy both VHS tapes and DVDs, until everyone changed over, and it was a huge expense for the shop to absorb.

“We had to slowly ease out the VHS. The picture on DVDs was better, and it was easier to handle.”

With the new technology came new problems: people would break the discs. Of course, the VHS tapes had also given their fair share of headaches.

“We had to splice them to repair. Nowadays, we have a rebuffing machine to fix DVDs. In the beginning, it was expensive to use both formats.”

She says her staff, Naseema Adam, Khalil Adam and Jose de Freitas, have been key to the success of the store, which has been more than just a place where people go to rent a movie.

“I’ve seen two generations come into the store. I’ve seen people who weren’t born when their parents came here come in with their children. It is very rewarding, fun and it is a social shop. People chat and romances have been formed here and broken.”

But much like the drive-ins before them, the video stores have found it hard to survive as people’s movie-watching habits change.

There used to be eight video stores in the area… now there are only two.

“It is changing, but we still see a future. There are people who still like to see what we’ve got and discuss it,” says Sharon.

“With downloading, piracy and streaming, it has affected the business. We still believe that we are here to stay. We have survived and have a strong base of customers who are happy to support us.”

Interaction between staff and customers is something you don’t get when you’re streaming a movie.

“The customers love coming here because it is a social activity… My staff have been here for ages and are passionate about movies and are very informative,” says Sharon.

They often get overseas visitors who tell them how much they miss video stores.

Apart from the changing formats, another big headache for the store is when people return their movies late, as this has a knock-on effect for those who have booked them.

Sharon reckons she’s heard every excuse in the book for late returns.

“One guy didn’t return a tape, and when I asked him why, he said he jumped on the tape. We’ve had lots of the ‘dogs have eaten the discs’, they’ve been left in shopping trolleys and people who had gone overseas with them by mistake.”

Jose has worked at the store on and off for 12 years. He says film has always been one of his passions. “I’m a movie buff, so I recommend and chat to the customers about movies. I got the love of movies from my parents. I find that I enjoy the interaction with people a lot more. You have your regulars and you meet a lot of new people.”

He likened the job to the bartender in the TV sitcom Cheers. “You know everybody in the area,” he says. “If young people ever want to work anywhere, they get such a good knowledge of a customer base from all walks of life.”

Khalil, known to the store’s long-time customers as ‘Adam’, has been at the store for 21 years. “I’ve always liked movies. My father had a small cinema in the neighbourhood where I grew up in Athlone. I got the job in 1992 and it just rekindled a lot of what I liked.

“I was always in and around movie theatres. There have been people who have met in the store over the years and got married. It’s one of the cool things and it has happened more than once. We’ve known these guys for 21 years and now some of them are married with children.”

He believes there is a future for DVD stores if they become specialised.

“I compare it to vinyl and that’s what we should do. It is not just commercial movies but foreign language, Nordic movies and that mix will hopefully keep us going.”