High volume, visibility give chains the edge

By Vera H-C Chan and Randy Myers

The Bay Area is awash in video chains. The most visible newcomer is Hollywood Video, which is giving the No. 1 ranked Blockbuster Video a run for its rental fees. Tagging along behind are Tower Video and the Wherehouse in the East Bay.

Blockbuster Video, which in the ’80s and early ’90s grew rapidly, has finally slowed its conquest as the video industry peaked in the ’90s. The Dallas-based chain plans to take a breather and open more stores in the United States in the latter half of this year, although no word yet whether it will add to its 105 Bay Area locales.

Its Top 40-style format emphasizes new releases, and it has been test-marketing a rain check policy for popular new videos. The “family entertainment” powerhouse still rejects NC-17 titles and producers still make specially edited versions so they don’t get locked out of the market, as in the case of “The Bad Lieutenant.” Certain R-rated films also aren’t on the shelves “The Last Temptation of Christ” is still taboo although customers can rent plenty o’ cleavage films or blood-spurting games of the “Mortal Kombat” variety.

With 13 stores in the Bay Area, including in Dublin, Concord and Berkeley, Tower Video goes for the eclectic, from the mainstream to midnight movies, from adult to a pretty darn good foreign film section. Its outlet at 660 Third St. in San Francisco sells used videos and discounted records and posters.

The Beaverton, Ore.-based Hollywood Video continues to flex its muscle and is winning over more East Bay customers as privately operated stores fall in its wake. The selection is outstanding, both in new and old releases. One of Hollywood Video’s most valued features is its guaranteed-to-be-in-stock claim for popular titles such as “Air Force One” or “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” Hollywood realizes that the public wants more than just the film with the biggest buzz and carries a vast selection of older titles as well as foreign films and Japanese animation.

Especially attractive are the unbeatable prices ($1.50 for old releases for 5 days). While individual Blockbuster stores tend to vary, Hollywood generally maintains a consistently high volume of tapes in every location.

The downside, of course, is the chain’s own popularity. Standing in a long line for “Titanic” is one thing, but few of us have the patience to wait 10 minutes to rent videos. But aside from that, Hollywood is a real find. Like Blockbuster, Hollywood does not rent adult movies. But it does stock unrated and NC-17 films.

Wherehouse has a smaller selection of movies. It primarily sells CDs, so the video quarter of the store seems sometimes like an afterthought. But Wherehouse does boast a solid selection of titles, ranging from the obscure to the blockbuster. You might have to root around to find the title you’re looking for, but while on your search you might find something else.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times Sunday Features