There was no fanfare late last month when The Video Boothe, a small mom-and-pop video rental store in northern Chatham County, closed its doors. There was, however, a substantial measure of disappointment among the store's long-time patrons, and a healthy dose of outrage at the circumstances that forced owner Dee Boothe to close up shop.
The Video Boothe opened more than four years ago in the Cole Park Plaza shopping center, located on U.S. 15-501 a few miles south of Chapel Hill. Through the years, Boothe says, the store developed a faithful customer base.
"Loyalty out here is incredible," she says.
But when a larger video store, a regional franchise called Carbonated Video, moved into the same shopping center, the new store's lease agreement included an exclusivity clause. According to the agreement between Carbonated and the owners of Cole Park Plaza--a company called Glenwood Development--The Video Boothe's lease couldn't be renewed when it expired at the end of October. So Carbonated was in, and Boothe was left to ponder her next step.
"We strongly considered just closing up," Boothe says. But after talking with her husband, she says they decided "we can do this, we really shouldn't give up."
The Boothes are landing on their feet, opening a store at a new location in Durham--in North Pointe Shopping Center, off Guess Road. The couple lives in Durham anyway, so in some ways the move makes sense, but Boothe says she never minded the commute to north Chatham. Now she's faced with not only creating a new customer base, but finding a new staff as well.
"That's frightening. The staff here is very tight," she says. "They've been with me, all except for one, for years. It's hard starting over."
Amazingly, soon after the Boothes signed a lease for the new store in Durham, Carbonated Video closed its six area stores and filed for bankruptcy. The chain's previous owners, David and Karen Knight, had sold the business in March to a company called CV Investment Group. But the old owners and the new owners never resolved a legal squabble over whether the sale had been completed, and eventually a judge ruled that the chain's assets belonged to the bankruptcy court. The stores closed Oct. 24, just five nights before The Video Boothe said goodbye to its Chatham location.
When Carbonated closed, Boothe says Glenwood Development (who could not be reached for comment) did a quick about-face and tried to persuade her to stay. But by then she and her husband had made other plans.
"We'd love to stay, but we've signed a lease," she explains.
For Boothe, the sound of Carbonated fizzling was music to her ears.
"I was proud that we outlasted the people they put their eggs in the basket for," she says. Her customers seem to agree.
"It serves them right," says Susanna Stewart, a long-time customer, referring to Carbonated Video and Glenwood. "I hope they both lose a bunch of money on it."
Stewart, who lives just north of Pittsboro--a few minutes from the shopping center--says she was "really horrified" to learn the news.
"A neighbor of mine called me to tell me about it," she says. "I went by there the next day to express my condolences. It's really upsetting that people do that to each other."
Boothe says Stewart's strong reaction wasn't unusual. In such a close-knit area, many of the store's patrons became friends as well as loyal customers. Two weeks before closing, Boothe sent a letter to 200 of her best customers explaining the situation. In the letter, she wrote: "The Video Boothe staff want you all to know how much we have enjoyed serving and getting to know you. We wish everyone the best and hope that you find another video store that cares about you as much as we have."
With such a loyal patronage, it's perhaps not surprising that many customers reacted to the announcement as if an old friend were being taken from them.
"It's been great," Boothe says. "People are pretty up in arms. The customers are very upset that even if they want the mom-and-pops, they're not allowed to have them. It's being chosen for them, and that's really not fair."
Now, though, with Carbonated closing its doors as well, Stewart and other area residents are left with no convenient choices.
"Who are we going to rent videos from?" asked one customer about an hour before The Video Boothe shut its doors for the last time.
Stewart doesn't have the answer: "There's not a very good one in Pittsboro," she says. "And Chapel Hill is so far to get to."
In the meantime, Boothe and her husband are concentrating on getting the new store off the ground--and presumably hoping that this time will be different, that a bigger fish won't once again move into their pond and begin feeling territorial.