Iconic video store says goodbyeNov 07, 2022 02:23PM ● By Becky Ginos
Employees at the store are like family. Some have worked there for 10 to 20 years.
BOUNTIFUL—In this day and age of streaming services it’s easy to just stay on the couch and watch pretty much anything. For those more traditional viewers holding an actual DVD (or for the really retro person VHS tape) is the only way to go. That’s why the announcement that Top Hat Video is closing after 40 years marks the end of an era.
Lee and Lona Earl opened Top Hat in 1983 at the old Five Points Mall in Bountiful. “They started with 200 tapes to rent and a VCR,” said their daughter-in-law Shanna Earl who has worked at the store for 27 years and is the manager. “They peddled them door-to-door to their neighbors. Most of them hadn’t seen a home video and they told them that they could watch a movie at home.”
Top Hat moved three times in the mall and eventually opened at their current location at the Square on 2600.
“I started working at the store when I was 19,” said Earl. “Lee and Lona asked my husband and I to manage the store so we managed it together for many, many years. About nine years ago my husband took another job so I’ve been managing it myself.”
Earl said their daughter came to the shop with them. “She’s literally been here all her life. She works here now. It’s been a family business for sure.”
Top Hat started with VHS and went to DVDs in 1997. “Then there was Blu Ray and then 4K came along,” she said. “We’ve always stayed up on technology to make sure we have the newest stuff for people.”
When Blockbuster and Video Update and other chains opened up around them, Earl said they had to find a way to stick out. “We had to find a niche for ourselves. We didn’t have 1,000 titles but we invested in family movies and old hard to find movies. We focused on building relationships and a sense of community.”
Their inventory grew over the years and Top Hat currently has 30,000 titles. “We also have a transfer family movies to DVD service that has kept us going too.”
Lee and Lona sold the store in 2020 to David Rees and Melissa Handley. “My stepson had been working there for four years and really enjoyed it,” said Rees. “When he heard they were going to close it he was sad and asked us to buy it – so we did.”
Rees said they’ve enjoyed running the store. “We wish we could keep it open forever but it’s been losing money. At first it lost a little, then a little more and it got worse over the years. Everyone has streaming services and they don’t use video stores. We’re the only ones left in Utah.”
The pandemic made things worse, he said. “People stayed home and then switched to streaming. People don’t rent films like they used to. It’s much easier (to stream) for sure.”
Lee and Lona did a great job of making the community a part of their lives, said Rees. “That sense of community is lost. People sit in their homes and don’t go out into reality.”
Rees said the employees have played a large part in the store’s success. “They are knowledgeable and can describe what a film is like and steer customers in the right direction. The employees develop a relationship with them. We have employees who have worked here for 10 to 20 years.”
“Several employees have full-time jobs but they work part time to maintain that relationship with the video store,” said Earl. “Everybody was family to Lee and Lona. They thought it was important to make people feel like family and not just give them a paycheck.”
People have met here and then gotten married, she said. “A couple came in and said they were looking for a movie and met each other.”
They will be selling inventory starting on Black Friday during regular business hours, said Earl. “We’ll sell more and more as it gets closer to the end. We’ll still rent until the end of December. We want to close gracefully and give the community one last chance.”
“We’re sad to be closing down,” said Rees. “We don’t want to.”λ