Video star is alive and well and living in Joburg
Joburg's Video Spot, run by the Hugo family for four decades, proves that browsing real shelves is still a thing for hardcore lovers of film and TV
“Bonhomie” is one of the reasons a DVD rental store in Johannesburg has been going for 37 years and shows no sign of running out of credits.
The word bonhomie, meaning warm conviviality, might be old-fashioned (today we’d say “vibe”) but is as charming as the staff and indeed the patrons of the Video Spot.
The anchor tenant of the Colony shopping centre in Craighall Park has an extended family of customers who remain loyal and regular despite the digital revolution that threatens DVD rental stores and satellite television worldwide.Roger Hugo and his brother Michael founded the franchise in 1981. It is now reduced to four from its heyday of 15 stores but, says Roger, the vibe (or bonhomie, as he calls it) is still as strong.
“At one point in the days of VHS there were three video venues in less than a kilometre,” he says. “Others have closed but we are still here. The store seems to be holding its own because of the quality of the collection. We bring in what we know the customers like. Back in the days of the Equity ban we used to source unusual British series and period films, whatever was allowed to be seen in South Africa. We still bring in stuff you might not find elsewhere.”
At one time, guests from nearby posh hotels would send drivers to collect movies. Roger mentions Oprah Winfrey, Richard Harris and Lou Gossett jnr. Local celebs like Mango Groove’s Claire Johnston, talk show host Dali Tambo and the Kerzner family are patrons, along with a slew of actors, writers, directors and the odd politician.Roger retired some years ago and handed the store over to his son Stephen, who has a formidable team of movie buffs to man the counters.
“There are different generations of movie watchers,“ says Stephen. “Older people just want to push play, not deal with phones or computers. Young families come in a lot because the kids enjoy choosing movies.” (Disney titles abound and the Harry Potter films fly in and out faster than you can say quidditch.) As for the in-between bracket: “I think what most people enjoy is that they can look and select in person,” says Stephen. “We can suggest things they might enjoy because we know what they’ve seen, and we have a vast collection.”
On the shelves are thousands upon thousands of neatly stacked and categorised titles, from the latest blockbusters to foreign films, documentaries and obscure gems from the early days of film and TV. Enough to keep a person at home for years. And loads more in the storeroom.Mthokosi Ncube, who has worked at the store for five years, says the arthouse films, foreign titles and hard-to-find British series are popular choices.
“Period dramas do really well; things you can’t always find online. But people also come here because they like to get out and about. We have a relationship with them. We discuss what they’ve watched and what they should see next.”
Ncube enjoys international stories, “but not the British stuff”, even though Downton Abbey is one of the most popular box sets sold and hired. His recommendations are the French detective series Braquo and the American series Billions.
“Series are doing really well now,” he says. "People love The Crown and Narcos … but Game of Thrones is probably our most hired collection.”Despite digital competition, the steady stream of customers continues.
“There will always be people who enjoy DVDs,” says Roger. “In the same way as vinyl is becoming big again, movies are going back in time.”
The trend towards tactile authenticity and retro nostalgia is part of it, says Stephen, but there is also a sound commercial reason, particularly when it comes to those with wide and eclectic tastes in viewing entertainment.
“Internationally, people are still renting DVDs because to get absolutely everything you ever wanted to watch you would have to subscribe to several streaming services, which would cost more than hiring.”