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The end of an era: Mr. Movies closing

Gary and Gay Johnson are closing the New Richmond Mr. Movies location at the end of the month, after the business had been open for 25 years. Dave Newman / RiverTown Multimedia

It's the end of an era.

At its peak in the 1990s, New Richmond had three businesses that centered around movie rentals. Now the last of those businesses, Mr. Movies, is closing. Owned by Gary and Gay Johnson, the business will close at the end of the month.

Gay began working at the business in 1994. In 2001, the Johnsons decided to purchase the business. The business, located at 1027 S. Knowles Ave., has tried to change with the times. The Johnsons said when they purchased the business in 2001, there were 25 DVDs in stock. They said it took five years to gradually phase out all of the VHS movies and fill the shelves with DVDs.

At the peak of the business, the Johnsons said they were approaching having 5,000 movies in stock. They said the busiest day every year was New Year's Eve.

"One of the first New Year's eves, we had lines at all three registers and 15 employees. The popcorn machine was barely keeping up," Gary said. "We had over 1,000 rentals that night."

Gay was the movie expert. She would usually screen shortened versions of movies before they were put on the shelf, so she could make educated recommendations for customers.

The Johnsons were proud of the fact that they never raised rental rates in the 17 years they owned the business, with rentals remaining at $2.99 throughout that time. That was partly due to competition as other movie options became more accessible through the advent of technology.

"We felt we couldn't raise prices. It was us against corporate America," Gary said.

The Johnsons pointed proudly to the 2003 award they received from the New Richmond Chamber of Commerce as the "Mom and Pop Business of the Year."

In its heyday, the movie rental business was a meeting place in the community.

"It's sad that's it's gone. It was a social thing. That was the place to go on a Friday or Saturday night," Gay said.

As technology took away their customers, the Johnsons tried to find other ways to keep the business alive. They began selling furniture three years ago, but that side of the business didn't take off like they'd hoped.

Now life will slow down for the Johnsons. Gary retired once before, in 2004 as the manager of the New Richmond Golf Club. It will be quite a change from their busy life.

"The place never closed, 365 days, every day we were open normal hours, except Christmas Eve we'd close a little early," Gay said.

The Johnsons said one of the most difficult parts of closing is losing the connection with the regular customers who have supported their business for 25 years.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.

(715) 426-1051
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