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Video Universe, One of the Last Rental Stores in America, Is Closing

The Robbinsdale shop is slated to close by May.

five VHS tapes stacked on a store shelf
Em Cassel

In November of 2021, we published a feature about VHS tapes, and the committed few around the Twin Cities who still buy, sell, collect, and rent them. Yes, rent them: Since 1985, Video Universe has been slinging tapes and (more commonly) DVDs out of an unassuming shop in a quiet Robbinsdale strip mall.

It’s one of the last video rental stores in the country, and soon, like so many others, it’ll close its doors for the last time. “The big news is that Video Universe, in 2023, next year, will be closing,” owner Scott Prost recently told CCX Media. “This will be our last year in business.”

Prost has owned the store since ’85, and he credits the wide selection with keeping their rental business running for the last 30+ years. With roughly 40,000 movies available to rent—everything from classics to cartoons to the X-rated stuff—you’d be hard-pressed not to find something exciting and weird and new (to you, at least) on these shelves.

But we don’t have to tell you that this is an era of streaming. Fewer and fewer folks watch DVDs or even own a DVD player, and fewer new movies are released in a physical format at all.

two vhs tapes side by side, both with "you must be 18 to rent this" stickers on themCredit: Em Cassel

It’s a bummer, because the seemingly limitless possibilities provided by streaming services are an illusion. Yes, we have easier, at-home access to more movies than ever before. But to quote myself and paraphrase all the other nerds who care about this stuff: “[U]nless you own something, you’re at the whims of platforms, which come and go. Movies get bumped from one platform to another; flukes of licensing have rendered movies unwatchable for weeks, months, years, or indefinitely.”

(I’ve been trying to find a way to watch Possession (1981) for at least a year now.)

As Video Universe’s Troy Rachey told us in 2021:

“Every time a new format comes about, you’re losing another percent of culture,” says Troy Rachey, who’s been working at the Robbinsdale video store since he was a teen in 1996. Not all movies made it from VHS to DVD; many of those that were put on DVD didn’t get transferred to Blu-Ray. “That’s why we kind of fill that void,” Rachey says. “We get those people that, ‘Oh, well I couldn’t find it anywhere else.’ Well, that’s why we’re still here.”

For a look at where we’re headed, consider the ongoing chaos at HBO Max, which has been pulling dozens of films and series—even the stuff it created and owns—to save pennies on residuals. It feels like streaming is going to get much worse pretty soon.

Anyway!

With the closure of Video Universe, roughly zero rental shops will remain in the Twin Cities. The last one in Minneapolis proper, Movies on 35th, closed in 2018 after a 15-year run in Powderhorn.

Prost tells CCX that he plans to start selling Video Universe’s inventory in March, closing the store by the end of May.