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An old-fashioned twist on modern technology

From left, Lana Ricker, daughter Ciara, 9, son Alex, 7, and Terry Ricker at Mr. Video in north Salem. They operated a chain of video stores in Germany, and opted to open one here when they moved back to the United States. KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox

Of the Keizertimes

With a rough economic climate and rapidly-evolving technology, on the surface opening a new video rental store makes about as much sense as, say, starting a newspaper.

But it made perfect sense to Terry and Lana Ricker.

Terry, who went to college in Washington, came back to the area with his Londoner wife and their two children after spending nearly 20 years in Germany – operating a chain of video stores catering to U.S. soldiers, American contractors and their families.

“Out of college I went there for three weeks and stayed 20 years,” Terry quipped.

They did well at the business, but eventually base closures and two wars meant their customer base was drying up. DVDs are coded based on regions, and while American DVD players play Region 1 – the same DVDs the Rickers carried – German domestic customers watched Region 2 DVDs, making it impossible to sell their inventory to the local market.

But what was a curse in Germany was a blessing in the States: They were all set to open an American video store. So they did, opening Mr. Video in north Salem.

“We had all these movies, and we just thought we could do a better job,” Terry said.

Opening earlier this year, Mr. Video represents a nearly bygone era: The independent video store. Yet where others might see adversity – DVDs can now be rented at a machine or through the mail – Terry and Lana saw an opportunity.

Some people didn’t have the credit card needed to rent at a kiosk; others value a larger selection than a machine can hold.

One very quantifiable advantage Mr. Video has over its electronic competitors is new releases: Three of the six major film studios this year started making new releases available to video stores 28 days before the electronic kiosks get them.

“It helps a lot when we get the word out,” Terry said. “At a video store you always have to have the new releases.”

They’ve got video games for the three major systems, and a catalog of more than 7,500 DVDs, along with more than 700 new releases and Blu Ray discs.

One of the biggest differences between them and other video stores is how they display their movies. You’ll see the same broad categories – horror, comedy, drama, etc. – but instead of in strict alphabetical order movies are often bundled together based on actors, subgenres, or a series. For example, “Army of Darkness” – the third movie in the Evil Dead series – is kept together with the first two. Most zombie or gangster movies are in one place.

And being that you’re dealing with a human instead of a machine, the store’s staff offers tips on what to see or what not to see based on customer feedback and their own experiences.

“My taste is going to be different than yours, but I can tell them what other people who have seen the movie have told me,” Terry said. “And you get to know people and their taste – we can recommend titles to regulars.”

The helpful knowledge also comes in handy when parents seek guidance on what to rent for their kids.

“Some parents don’t want their kids to see violence, others may not want them to watch something sexual,” Terry said. “We can tell them why a movie is ‘PG’ and not ‘G.’”

They also seek to draw in niche markets. They have a substantial collection of martial arts and anime films, and are actively seeking movies produced by Spanish and Mexican companies to draw in Spanish-speaking customers.

Their prices are competitive, too: $2.49 for regular DVDs, $2.99 for new releases and Blu-Rays, and $1.99 for children’s movies.