STRASBURG – Shenandoah Radio Shack, Video and Tan will close its doors in Strasburg after 33 years, surviving longer than its industrious owner ever dreamed.
Garlan Gochenour has built a small empire in Shenandoah County. Raising a family with five children is difficult on a cop’s salary, he said.
Gochenour’s ability to put his head down and get to work powered him through difficulty and tragedy. His sense of humor helped keep an industry that the internet is slowly strangling to death alive, long after much larger chains shut their doors.
Not long after he opened his first store on Main Street, a fire destroyed his store. Days later, he re-opened at a new location announcing he had the “hottest videos in town.”
A fire prompted the first move but a series of purchases left Gochenour moving again and again.
“We were using wagons, all the kids and every neighbor to help us move,” he said. “When you’re moving VHS, you’re moving a lot of weight.”
Rather than bother with moving again, Gochenour purchased a shopping center and set up shop while renting out the rest of the center. What started as a run-down flea market blossomed into a shopping center with Gochenour’s video rental storefront and center. Over time, he moved his store further into the center, flip-flopping with Blue Ridge Hospice when they wanted to open their second-hand store.
Now, he said, it’s the end of an era for this particular line of work.
“People are getting more comfortable with just hitting a button even though it’s twice the price,” he said. “But we’ve still got a lot of people that come in that get three movies for five days for $10 and that’s their entertainment for the week because they can’t afford cable.”
The beginning of what would stretch into a chain of video stores spanning the length of Shenandoah County and working into Front Royal started small. The first loan Gochenour received was for $7,000. The banker, he said, told him he didn’t think the business was going to do very well, that it was a fad and was going to burn out.
A couple of months later, Gochenour said, that same banker came in and bought a VCR.
Wrapped up in the video store is a RadioShack and tanning salon. While the combination of a RadioShack and movie rental business may seem obvious, Gochenour said the tanning and video rental business have a long history together.
“There’s a lot of video stores that have tanning because tanning is busier Monday through Thursday and you can offset the weekend when almost nobody comes in to tan,” he said.
Over the years, Gochenour has established himself as a businessman, owning the shopping center his Strasburg store sits in, a restaurant, multiple video rental stores and On Second Thought Consign and Thrift, the largest second-hand store in the county. He added tanning to his video stores in 2000 and never looked back.
Stacked along the long, narrow store are thousands of movies with more on carts running down the middle of the store. Gochenour has moved away from the hefty VHS tapes, but only recently, he said. Now, everything from recent releases to classics is available to rent.
Selecting which movies to carry is more than picking box office hits, Gochenour said.
“If it runs really well at the theater, it probably isn’t going to do as well in video because everybody has already seen it,” he said. “Usually the sweet spot is between $40 [million] and $85 million is where it’s enough exposure about it but they want to see it.”
Business in Strasburg has slowed, forcing Gochneour to only keep one store open. The base has hollowed out, Gochenour said, but it hasn’t been decimated. He is keeping one store open in Woodstock and thinks there is still a market for renting physical copies of movies.
“You can pick it up, you can look at it, you can read the box,” he said. “You can talk to the lady behind the counter that watches a lot of movies. She can tell you whether she likes and whether other people have said good things about it.”
Gochenour can tell viewers what he thinks about the movies, too. Out of the roughly 25,000 movies he has between his two remaining stores, Gochenour said he has probably seen about 80% of them.
“When you go to buy a movie, whether it’s the theater, whether you’re watching the trailer, you want to know if it's a dud,” he said. “That movie will never pay for itself.”
When he started in 1986, Gochenour said movies cost $67 per tape. Now, DVDs cost about $25.
Despite the drop in price on the back end, Gochenour said movie rentals were more profitable in the days of VHS tapes. Now, he said, people prefer to buy a movie and add it to their collection rather than renting for a week.
Another count against rentals is the increased competition for everyone’s attention. Facebook and Instagram aren’t direct competitors, Gochenour said, but they are cheap, easy and free ways people can spend their time now rather than paying for a movie.
All movies and RadioShack supplies at the Strasburg store are on sale now through the end of the month. The store is located at 390 E. King St., No. 5.