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The Video Room survives a mass extinction

With Netflix and other ways to watch movies online growing ever more popular, it’s become rare to see an old-fashioned video rental store. The Video Room, on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, though, has been going strong for 30 years. KALW’s Dora Finkelstein dropped in to see what’s showing.

JOSEPH LUM: My name is Joseph Lum, I started the store in 1983.

BILL WEIDEMEYER: My name is Bill Weidemeyer, and I'm the manager of the store and I've been here for 15 years.

LUM: We started at college point, we moved over to Piedmont Avenue ten years later, or five years later actually, and we moved to this spot five years after that. So we've been here about 20 years, over 20 years.

LUM: We first started out as a laser disc store, and, that was a failure, so we added VHS tape, and we moved over to DVDs and blu-rays, now.

WEIDEMEYER: One of the reasons for our success is that we've always been, tried to be, on the cutting edge of the industry.

LUM: When we started here in 1983, within a few months, blockbuster opened about half a mile from us, and we suffered greatly at that time.

WEIDEMEYER: That wasn't in 1983, Joe, I think that was about ten years after that. When they did come in, we did lose some customers to Blockbuster, and of course now those customers have lost Blockbuster, which is too bad, but some of them are coming back to us.

DORA FINKELSTEIN: Okay, and even though you don't want me to ask you it, I'm going to ask you what your favorite movie is.

LUM: Too many to choose from, but, My Fair Lady.

WEIDEMEYER: I'll give you three: Dinner with Andrei, which is a conversation between two gentlemen in a restaurant, which I've always felt was really the conversation between both sides of each of us. I think Matrix is my favorite sort of blockbuster, computer generated movie in the past several years. And I'm a very big large Terrence Malik fan, so I would have to say of his movies, I like the Thin Red Line the best.

WEIDEMEYER: Thirty years is a long time and there's probably no other video stores that have been in business this long to be honest with you and they are as you know, becoming an anachronistic business. They are slowly, but inevitably it seems, fading. But we intend to be the last ones standing, and now our motto is "30 plus," and next year it'll be "30 plus one," and then "30 plus two," and as long as we can stay open we will. We're a neighborhood store and all our customers are our neighbors, and we enjoy talking to them and servicing them and there's really nothing hard about this job at all. I'm surprised I'm even paid as a matter of fact.

Click the audio player above to listen to the story.