Premiere Video lives on in a digital world

Walking into Premiere Video on Mockingbird near Central feels like walking into an enormous film archive. Floor-to-ceiling shelves are stacked with not only DVDs but also their predecessors, VHS tapes, and the latest video storage invention to take hold of the market, Blu-Rays.

The store has everything from documentaries to current movies, from old History Channel episodes to obscure British TV shows, and is revered among regulars for its comprehensive selection of foreign films, including those that require an accompanying rental of an international DVD player for viewing.

Owner Sam Wade opened the video store in 1985 when he was a geophysicist at ARCO to support him and his wife just in case he was laid off. Originally, there were three store locations — one on Skillman, another in Mesquite, and the current Mockingbird Lane storefront. Business slowed for the Skillman and Mesquite stores, so Wade closed them, but the remaining Premiere Video is holding its own, Wade says.

The question is how does Premiere Video make it as one of the last family-owned video rental stores in Dallas? Video rental behemoth Blockbuster has filed for bankruptcy, and the rise of video ordering and streaming websites such as Netflix and Hulu are taking over the video-renting market.

The answer, Wade says, lies in the neighborhood customers.

Wade opened Premiere Video in 1985 and expanded to three locations. The Mockingbird Lane store is the only one still open. Photos by Madeline Stevens

“I’ve often told people that I could take this store elsewhere, and it wouldn’t do well,” Wade says. “It does well here because of the people. Without them, we’re nothing.”

Billie Rhodes has patronized Premiere on and off for the past four years. An avid classic movie collector and viewer, she visits Premiere when she wants to find something she hasn’t seen already. And her searches are always successful.

“I own most of these movies,” Rhodes says, pointing to a shelf labeled “Film Noir.” “So for me to keep finding new movies … I don’t see how [the selection] could be any better. I’m so glad that we have something like this in Dallas.”

Wade says that his customers are the reason for the store’s enormous and eclectic inventory. Customer requests are a huge part of Premiere’s business, and if Premiere doesn’t have a requested film, Wade will order it. Wade also constantly scours movie review websites, Top 10 lists and movie reviews from other countries in order to stock the store with movies customers want. Premiere started out with just 900 films, but in the 26 years the store has been open, Premiere’s inventory has ballooned to more than 25,000 DVD titles and approximately the same number of VHS titles.

“We grew the store organically,” Wade says. “We let people tell us what they wanted.”

Although Premiere is still faring relatively well, Wade says the video store’s business was best in the early part of this century, from 2000 to 2005.

“It’s declined since then just like everybody,” Wade says. “Blockbuster has gotten into trouble because their business declined. Whenever the big guy has troubles, everybody has troubles.”

Sam Wade chats with a customer at Premiere Video. Wade says loyal customers keep him in business.

Most of the Blockbuster locations around Premiere have shuttered, and lately everyone seems to be using Netflix. Still, Wade is optimistic about Premiere’s future. Premiere, he says, has what Netflix doesn’t have — the film selection and the browsing experience. You can’t find a lot of these movies in a Blockbuster or anywhere online.

Lucas Johnson, who moved to the Lakewood area only a few months ago, uses Netflix but also rents films from Premiere.

“They have so many cool things that you can’t find in any other video store. It’s nice not to have to wait for the lag times that can happen on Netflix,” Johnson says.

“Here, you can watch what you want, when you want,” Wade says. “Netflix says, ‘Watch what we want you to watch when we want you to watch it.’ You’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, and they send you ‘Battle L.A’!”

Video stores will always serve a purpose, Wade says, because people enjoy the physical browsing experience. At Premiere, a steady stream of customers walks through the doors every day, even on a Tuesday afternoon — a seemingly unusual time to be renting a video. The store managers helpfully answer questions – “What was that movie with Harrison Ford? The one before his last one?” a customer asks – and while it’s true that the answer could have been found easily through a quick Google search, something about asking the question of a person and finding the movie right away is more satisfactory.

Just as the Kindle hasn’t put bookstores out of business, Netflix with its mail-in movies and “watch instantly” feature won’t put Premiere out of business, at least not anytime soon. Even among the digital generation, there remains a certain nostalgia of the pre-Netflix and Hulu days when you could walk into your local video rental store on a Friday night and rent a few movies for the weekend.

“‘Let’s go to my house and stream something’ kind of loses a little bit of the magic,” Wade says.

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