Maple Leaf's Reckless Video Still Thriving Despite Netflix Era

One of the few remaining video rental stores in Seattle defied the odds when things looked grim
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Can you remember the last time you stepped foot in a video store? If you’re a Maple Leaf resident, it was probably sometime last week.

As mom-and-pop movie rental shops and chains like Blockbuster have shuttered due to the popularity and convenience of on-demand Internet movie streaming services, the north Seattle neighborhood’s Reckless Video has remained in business since opening in 1991. And it’s one of the few surviving movie rental stores left in Seattle.

The store, which prides itself on its staff of knowledgeable movie-lovers eager to make recommendations and build relationships with its loyal customers, has been through a lot. On Thanksgiving morning in 2001, the store caught fire along with neighborhood favorite Café News next door. An electrical issue was determined to be the cause, and it left the store irreparably damaged.

“Thanksgiving eve night, we had rented more than 495 movies and over the course of the next few days we got all but about 20 of them back,” says Zoë Claire, who has worked at Reckless Video for the past 15 years, and has been the general manager for 13. “The neighborhood retuned them all.”

This, Claire says, is one of the biggest reasons the store is up and running today.

“The neighborhood took up a collection [for Reckless employees] and we each got a few hundred dollars. People were really supportive. We got lots of letters. We still have stacks and stacks of letters to this day.”

A possible new location for the video shop surfaced quickly: A little white house being used by Ace Hardware across the street from Reckless’ old storefront.

Reckless’ owner Mike Kelley secured the Ace space (where he was the owner and store manager) and the video store reopened on March 17 that same year—a little more than three months after the fire.

Prior to its grand opening, the little house got quite the makeover. It was painted an electric blue and the owners built a big porch out front and removed the front-obscuring rhododendrons. And its side wall was adorned with a mural of Bugs Bunny and Alfred Hitchcock caught up in riveting conversation next to Yoda.

The customers came rolling in just as they did before. “The neighborhood is really loyal,” Claire says. “These businesses here do well because people shop locally, and they know what matters.”

The setup of the new and improved Reckless made for a much better layout than its previous store. The old house was divided into four rooms that each housed a different movie genre. There were shelves with movies listed by actor, so if you were feeling a Brad Pitt film but didn’t know which one, they were all located in one place.

So just how has a video store survived this on-demand, digital era where everything is accessed at the touch of a button?

“What Netflix did is make people more interested in what is out there. And become more interested in searching,” Claire says. “I used to think that when people could download everything that that’s all they would want and we would be doomed. But it hasn’t worked that way.”

The films that fly off Reckless’ shelves are really dependent on what’s trending. Right now, you’d be hard-pressed to find all the Star Wars films stocked considering the next one is due out in December.

“When the Harry Potter films were coming out in theaters, I actually just taped a line with arrows on the floor leading to the Harry Potter section because people were asking for them so much,” she says.

But what makes all the difference: Reckless knows its customers and their taste in movies. Many of its employees have been going there since they were kids.  

“I think people like to hold [a DVD] in their hand and look at it,” Claire says. “And we’re kind of bossy. We say, ‘now, put that back, you’re not going to like that,’ because we know people.”

She notes their customers vary from families who come in and ask which movies are best for their kids’ sleepovers, to people who just want a movie recommendation.

“There’s a trust involved. We want people to enjoy themselves, we want them to come back. We’re not looking at the bottom line, we’re looking at keeping people happy.”

Reckless makes sure it stocks movies its customers would watch—a more curated selection that’s tailored to people’s feedback.

Not to mention, it can also be more forgiving than Redbox. “If somebody comes in and says, ‘I broke my leg yesterday, and I was in the hospital. That’s why my movie is late.’ Redbox is probably going to take their late fee and we probably won’t,” Claire says. “It’s that personal touch thing.”

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