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Uniquely Utah: Utah video store succeeds despite streaming services, pandemic

Posted at 9:35 PM, Jan 31, 2021

BOUNTIFUL, Utah — In the 1980s, movies on VHS could be rented seemingly everywhere. Gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies were all getting in on the growing business. Soon, small chain stores gave way to big chain stores like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster.

But the coming of the digital era, along with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have nearly made video stores extinct.

But you wouldn’t know that stepping inside Top Hat Video in Bountiful, Utah.

There are nearly 33,000 film titles on DVD and Blu-ray, and a steady stream of customers to rent them.

“They make us feel welcome here. It’s like family," customer Lynne Godfrey said. She and her husband Jerry come once a week and rent between 6-8 DVDs.

When the Godfreys hunkered down at home for an extended period of time early in the pandemic, Top Hat manager Shanna Earl called them to make sure they were okay.

“We get to know you,” Earl said, talking about the Godfreys and other regular customers. She’s been at Top Hat for 25 of its 38 years in business.

Earl witnessed the rise and fall of Blockbuster, which once had three locations within a few miles of Top Hat.

“They were our biggest competition,” she said. “They could get 50 copies of a new release, and we just couldn’t do that.”

While Top Hat still carries a selection of new releases, many customers come seeking old favorites, foreign films, and more obscure titles.

They even carry two hard-to-find films on VHS.

“We hold onto ‘Takedown’ which is a wrestling movie filmed at Viewmont High School, and ‘RAD’ which is a pretty popular BMX biking movie back in the ’80s,” Earl said.

Aside from renting films, Top Hat Video also offers another service, turning old home movies on tape into DVDs or digital formats.

Earl says the extra revenue helps keep Top Hat in business.

“We feel like we’re a film library, and we have this mission to preserve film," Earl said. “Once video stores are gone, a lot of films will be lost. When VHS was out and DVD came out, a lot of movies didn’t make that format leap, and now we have Blu-ray and a lot of movies aren’t making that leap as well.”

Top Hat Video is located at 521 W. 2600 South in Bountiful.