Front Row Video on Solano

Front Row Video, a fixture on Solano Avenue for 26 years, is closing at the end of the month. Rentals are continuing until this Sunday, and the stock of DVDs and videos is being sold off.

“It’s tough to say, ‘This is the end’, but we’re at the point where social security will give me more than the business,” said a visibly saddened Harvey Whittenburg, owner of Front Row for the last 16 years. “When I work it out, I make something like $2 an hour and it just doesn’t make sense.”

While talking to Whittenburg yesterday lunchtime, a number of patrons came into the store to express their regrets at the closing. “My son almost cried,” said one woman. “You’re such a part of the neighborhood.”

Whittenburg said he and his staff had tried everything. The two managers, Dave and Ritchie, who had been with the store for 25 and 20 years respectively, took salary cuts but it wasn’t enough to make the store a sustainable business in the current climate, Whittenburg said.

The closing of Front Row comes soon after the closing of Reel Video on Shattuck and Videots on College. Blockbuster (which recently filed for bankruptcy protection) on Shattuck, and Video Maniacs and Five Star Video on University are still operating.

The steady decline of video rental stores is not a purely Berkeley phenomenon. They were first hit badly by the rise of Netflix, which currently spends $700 million annually on postage to mail DVDs to its 15 million customers. But Netflix and a host of competitors are rapidly moving into streaming movies directly into homes. Analysts estimate that Netflix’s DVD business will peak in the next two years and then steadily decline as more and more consumers switch to viewing movies online.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...