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Independent movie stores: how a dying breed survives in Bozeman

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: May 26 2013 04:23:44 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Movie Lovers clerk Joe Shelton has a passion for movies.

"It's a magical art form," says Shelton.

He trains their newest employee and first hire since Shelton got the job eight years ago. He grew up in a small town with five movie stores and knew, one day, he'd work in one.

"When I was kid, I never had a head for baseball facts or football statistics or anything like that but I remember I had a big book of every movie that, at that point, had ever been released on VHS and DVD. I would just page through it in my spare time and it was fun to do," explains Shelton.

Movie Lovers is a neighborhood store. The employees are family and know most of their customers by name. Employees like Shelton say they know what customers like and they're not afraid to voice their opinions of a film or TV series.

"They know when they ask us what did you think of this movie that we're not trying to convince them to take it because it will get $3.99 in our pocket," says Shelton.

It's one reason why Pete Longo stops in two to three times a week.

"The folks who run it are laid back and also very knowledgeable about the movies and TV series that they have here," says Longo.

Longo searches for the next season of Mad Men. He recently got into a few TV series but still doesn't subscribe to cable services.

"Largely because I don't want to pay a vulture contract for a bunch of channels I don't want, just in order to get a few movies that I do. I'd much rather come in here and spend a buck or two on a DVD," says Longo.

Longo says he likes being able to browse and chat with employees.

"We still have a few years left in the business because of that but, will there be video stores five years from now? Hard to say. 10 years? No, I don't think," explains Movie Lovers Manager Tony Sacco.

Despite a steady stream of customers folks with Movie Lovers say they have to make sacrifices to keep the store afloat.

"At first it was the Redbox and Netflix. Those subscription services hurt us a little bit. Now, it's people downloading movies," says Sacco.

Sacco's been with Movie Lovers 25 years and has managed it full time for the last five. He and his employees haven't seen raises in years, but neither have their customers when it comes to pricing. Sacco says it's tough finding ways to bring in revenue but says they're determined to stay in business as long as they can.

"People say all the time they don't want us to leave, they don't want us to go anywhere. What would they do without us?" explains Sacco.

It's one reason why Shelton believes they won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

"We love movies, we like each other and we love our customers," says Shelton.

Shelton says he thinks Movie Lovers has even been growing. They just got on Facebook four months ago and, already, they have 300 likes.