On Aug. 2, three minutes before closing time, Movies on 35th Street rented out its final film, the 2017 drama “The Glass Castle.”
The next morning, the store that had become a staple of the Powderhorn neighborhood announced it was closing its doors after 15 years.
“I feel like it’s run its course,” said owner Tim Hanson. “It wasn’t making it like it used to.”
In a Facebook post, Hanson cited the “constant barrage” of technology that made it hard to keep the store open. He’s selling off his stock of DVDs, and is planning to close sometime in September.
Movies on 35th Street opened in 2003, when the movie rental business was thriving. At-home movie nights were the highlight of the week for many families, and DVD rentals accounted for more than half of Hollywood’s revenue. The Twin Cities was home to independent rental stores as well as the chains, Mr. Movies and Blockbuster, which had more than 9,000 stores nationwide in 2004.
After Movies on 35th Street opened, it quickly became a neighborhood hotspot and even caught the attention of local celebrities. In 2015, the store was visited by Prince and Judith Hill, who rented two movies but returned only one. (The other is more than 1,000 days late, said Hanson.)
But the convenience of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video made for stiff competition, and rental stores across the country started folding. Blockbuster now has only one storefront that remains open, in Bend, Ore.
Two Minneapolis holdouts called it quits last year. Video Lease in the Longfellow neighborhood and Intercontinental Video on the West Bank closed, making Movies on 35th Street the last video store in Minneapolis.
(The independently owned Video Universe, which opened in 1985, is still renting movies in Robbinsdale.)
But eventually even Movies on 35th Street, the little-movie-store-that-could, couldn’t anymore.
“It was more fun back then because people were really excited to come to the movie store,” said Hanson. “It’s not a party like it was back then.”
The movie man
Hanson grew up with movies. “The Warriors,” a 1979 action film about a New York City gang, made a lasting impression on him when he was a kid. (That movie isn’t for sale at his store. “I already took that one home,” he said.)
In high school, Hanson worked at a Mr. Movies in St. Louis Park, when VHS was the new technology. One of the perks of the job was that he got to take movies home for free.
“It’s almost as much fun to come to the movie store and look at the movies as it is to go home and watch it,” said Hanson.
Soon, Hanson decided to start a movie rental store of his own. The store’s name, Movies on 35th Street, was a nod to the 1947 Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street.”
He started with a small selection of films — so small, he said, that there was room on the shelves to display movies face-forward rather than by the spine. Over the years he took suggestions from customers to expand his collection.
The store had an old-fashioned feel. Movies rented for $2.25, new releases $3.50, just like they did when the store first opened. If a return was overdue, customers would get a call from Hanson. And he was almost always there, behind the counter, beneath a movie playing on the overhead screen.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the film playing was 2009’s “Land of the Lost”, which Hanson played on repeat when it was released. Customers meandered through the aisles, DVDs in hand, but to buy this time, not rent. Many greeted Hanson and offered condolences. Some even cried.
“It’s not just a video store,” said Powderhorn resident Justin Leaf. “Every time I come in here, he’s having an awesome chat with people and seems to know people.”
Behind the counter is Hanson’s “memento wall,” covered in mismatched keepsakes. There are photos of regulars, pages from coloring books, an old Valentine’s Day card and an invitation to a Justin Bieber birthday party.
In the mix is a black-and-white image of a smiling Joanna Rose, who has worked at the store on and off for eight years.
“I just never left,” said Rose. “Even through other jobs, if he needed me, I would just come back and work a night or two.”
Rose, who grew up in the neighborhood, had been visiting the store since she was a kid. Each time she came in, she would ask Hanson for a job.
“I think finally he just gave in,” she said. “I just always thought it would be fun — and it was.”
Over those eight years, Rose said, the store was a “social gathering,” where neighbors met. Even though she didn’t watch many movies (a running joke at the shop), she said it was natural for her and Hanson to form friendships with customers.
“I don’t know if it’s totally hit me yet that I’ll never be back here after we sell everything out,” said Rose.
The first movie Hanson rented out was the 2002 “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” a new release at the time. A new business owner, and a bit nervous, Hanson rented it for free. Since then, he has rented out 376,074 movies.
“Fifteen years,” said Hanson, who already has another job lined up. “I had a good run.”
Movies on 35th Street
What: The brick-and-mortar movie rental store is closing. All movies are for sale.
Where: 3447 Bloomington Av. S., Mpls.
When: 5-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-10 p.m. Fri., noon-10 p.m. Sat., 1-9 p.m. Sun.