Videoport, a 28-year-old Portland movie rental store with fiercely loyal customers and zealous film buff employees, will close in August and donate its 18,000-title DVD collection to the Portland Public Library.

Owner Bill Duggan announced the closing of the Old Port landmark on Wednesday. He said competition from online streaming services and rising costs contributed to his decision. Duggan had been negotiating a new lease for the 3,800-foot space that Videoport occupies at 151 Middle St. Even with the building owners offering “some help” financially on the lease, Duggan decided it was time to close the business.

“We can’t raise prices anymore, because of competition, so it’s hard to keep up with costs,” said Duggan, 60. “I think we were able to stay open as long as we did because Portland has movie fans with pretty sophisticated tastes and we’ve had wonderful customers.”

Duggan said he was “pleased” that the library accepted his donation of DVDs. The donation will double the library’s existing DVD collection, said Sarah Campbell, the library’s executive director.

Campbell called the collection “unique,” since it includes obscure and hard-to-find titles, ranging from indie horror and obscure documentaries to silent film classics and Hollywood blockbusters.

“The collection is what made Videoport’s role in the community so strong and important, and we’re honored to take it on,” said Campbell. She said plans are underway to make the Videoport collection available at the library “as quickly as possible.”

SURVIVED LONGER THAN EXPECTED

Although a boon to the library, Videoport’s closing will be like losing a home away from home for some local movie fans. Many have come to depend on the encyclopedic knowledge of Videoport’s staff.

“You could go up to (staff) there and say, ‘What was that film with the guy about the thing?’ and they would know exactly what you were talking about, because they loved the material,” said Nat May, 42, who began going to Videoport as a teen and is now executive director of Space Gallery, an arts venue on Congress Street. “Videoport always seemed to have it all, but represented the material in a curated way that always seemed to lead to new discoveries. This is very sad news.”

Videoport has survived in the Old Port longer than many people expected, years after most people switched to Netflix or other online services for movies. By 2011, the number of video stores in the country had dropped to 6,650, from 18,739 in 2005, according to U.S. Census data. Blockbuster, which had more than 9,000 locations in 2004, closed its remaining stores two years ago.

Videoport had 7,600 “active renters” in the past year, Duggan said. Prices are $3.50 per video, but because of multiple special offers, the store ends up getting about $1.90 per movie.

The last day to rent movies will be Aug. 15, with movies being due back by Aug. 22. Duggan said the store, which once had 15 full-time employees, is now run by two employees who work about 30 hours a week and two employees who work less than that.

Videoport survived even after the Old Port had evolved into an upscale, tourist-centric district. The store has been tenant-at-will since its lease expired in April 2013, Duggan said. He had been negotiating a new lease with the building’s owner, East Brown Cow Management Inc. The space was listed online as available Wednesday, at a price of $17.75 per square foot.

The building at 151 Middle St. is also home to Bull Moose Music, Casablanca Comics, Studio One Ltd. and Anthropologie, an upscale purveyor of clothing and housewares.

The 2014 lease rates for prime retail space in the Old Port, which includes Exchange, Wharf and Commercial streets, ranged from $30 to $40 per square foot, according to information presented by MEREDA, the Maine Real Estate & Development Association. The next tier of retail space, including the Middle Street area, leased commonly for $25 to $30 per square foot.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE VIDEO STORE

Videoport is the opposite of upscale and trendy. With exposed pipes and concrete floors, it is like the basement rec room of the world’s biggest movie fan. The staff provide personal touches, such as organizing shelves of DVDs and videos by seasonal themes, or by highlighting their own favorites.

Categories that you won’t find in most stores include “Incredibly Strange” and “Bollywood.”

Video stores like Videoport are different from many retail businesses because they often become community centers of culture and conversation, said Daniel Herbert, author of the 2014 book “Videoland: Movie Culture at the American Video Store.”

“They became de facto cultural centers in many communities. Movies are a good touchstone for conversation, because everyone has something to say about movies,” said Herbert, who teaches media history at the University of Michigan. “Video stores are very populist places. Kids and grandparents go there. There isn’t a demographic a video store didn’t appeal to.”

Customers who streamed into Videoport shortly after its noon opening Wednesday were stunned to learn of the store’s closing. Many said they understood the reasons, but still couldn’t imagine their lives without Videoport.

“What am I going to do? Will I have to go the way of the Internet? I’m blown away right now,” said T.J. Lewis, 37, of Portland, as he browsed the “Thriller” section. “I’m here every other day. You can’t find a lot of these films anywhere.”

“And you don’t need a credit card to rent here,” said Lewis’ girlfriend, Jayme Hurley.

Ajia Shaffer of Portland had come in Wednesday and asked Duggan where to find a British film called “Gangster No. 1.” When Duggan told her it was in the “Incredibly Strange” section, she replied, “Everything I like is in ‘Incredibly Strange.’ ”

Shaffer, 35, said she was happy that Duggan was donating his collection to the library, but she’d miss the store’s staff and their incredible knowledge of films.

“It won’t be the same,” she said. “You can’t just walk into a library and say, ‘Tell me what movies I’d like.’ ”

April McLucas, who grew up going to Videoport and has worked there since 2002, was smiling to customers Wednesday afternoon, but said she couldn’t help but feel sad at losing a job she loved.

“I really loved working here,” said McLucas, 34. “I grew up here.”

NOT MANY RENTAL OUTLETS LEFT

Videoport’s closing leaves locals with very few options for physically browsing films to take home, besides public libraries.

The 2014 Portland area phone book put out by FairPoint lists four video rental stores besides Videoport. Three of the phone numbers were out of service Wednesday.

But one, Jet Video on Pleasant Avenue in Deering Center in Portland, is still open. The owner was not available for comment Wednesday, but the store’s website describes it as a “neighborhood hub” and a “video cooperative” that rents videos, sells ice cream and popcorn, and offers postal services.

Duggan said the cost of accepting his collection will be “significant” to the library, since each DVD must be processed and labeled so it can be in the library’s computer system. He said he hoped longtime customers would use the collection at the library, for free, and hopefully help the library defray any costs of upkeep.

“I’ll definitely spend more time at the library,” Lewis said. “I think that’s awesome.”


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