Movie rentals still popular throughout rural Newfoundland and Labrador

Published on August 28, 2017

Online streaming services like Netflix brought a quick death to major chains like Blockbuster. Today, finding a place to rent films in populated Canadian cities can be a challenge, but DVDs remain a common sight in the gas stations and corner stores of rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

©Kyle Greenham / The Northern Pen

NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – Rural Newfoundland and Labrador may be one of the last avenues for an industry on the brink of extinction in most areas of the country – the movie rental.    

Finding a place to rent films can be nearly impossible in many booming and populated Canadian cities. But in the outports and small towns of Newfoundland and Labrador, it is rarely a challenge to find a gas station or corner store that offers DVDs and Blu-rays for rent.

Of seven communities the Northern Pen successfully contacted for this story, from the tips of the peninsula and down as far as Port au Choix, only one did not have a movie rental location. 

Online streaming services like Netflix brought a quick death to most of the industry, killing off major conglomerate chains like Blockbuster. Jumbo Video, the popular video chain in Newfoundland and Labrador, closed the doors on its last store in 2015.

Rhea Earle, who works at Hedderson’s Store in St. Lunaire-Griquet, says even with depleted demand from services like Netflix, their location still manages to rent out roughly 30 titles a month. Earle says they have the usual locals who rent, but they also rent to many visitors during tourist season.

The Irving gas station in St. Anthony also has a selection of films that still get rented.

Lidstone’s Irving and Convenience store in Roddickton stands as one of the more successful chains of the peninsula. With over 100 films in their selection and two new titles arriving each week, Brenda Randell says the store has a faithful base of local renters.

“Some weeks we rent out about 15 or 20 movies, sometimes more,” said Randell. “They do very well.”

While the availability is still there, success is not being found in some spots of the province.

Forteau Sales and Service in Labrador has a selection of films, but has seen a steady depletion in the number of movies it rents. As well, Northern Motors in Flower’s Cove has around 50 titles, but owner Kerry Gould says they rarely leave the shelves nowadays.

“The last month or so we haven’t gotten any new movies in,” said Gould. “We don’t rent them out much so we’ve pretty much given it up now.”

Stores like Forteau Sales and Service and Northern Motors may end up selling off most of their movies in the near future.

Faye Buckle, owner of the C&V Variety in Port au Choix, says the rise of streaming services has done a lot to collapse the success of the movie rentals her business offers. Buckle can recall the days when renting out films was a staple of the store’s business, but those days are gone.

“Online you can steal movies wherever you want now, it killed us completely,” said Buckle. “We might rent one out one night, but there might be five nights we rent out neither one.”

Still, Buckle say she receives new titles every two weeks. Although, the routine topping up of her movie collection has an uncertain future.

“I want the gentleman who brings the movies here to take them, that’s how few rentals there are now,” she said. “It’s just a waste of space on the wall. We rent them, but we’ll never make money on it.”

Today the sight of movies for rent remain a commonplace of rural Newfoundland, but for many areas it appears to be going the same way as Blockbuster.

While small outport gas stations and stores stand as a last vestige of the movie renting experience, these businesses are still being threatened by the easy accessibility to movies provided by streaming services and illegal downloading.