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Open since the mid-90s, this Maine video rental store has stood the test of time

"I have Netflix, I have Hulu, I have Amazon Prime, and I'm here looking for something to watch," one customer said.

BELFAST, Maine — While "be kind, rewind" is a phrase you haven't heard in a while, one small business in Belfast has been proving for decades that what goes out of style isn't always truly gone. Customers are taking notice.

After initially opening in the mid-90's, Opera House Video is now known as one of Maine's last remaining video rental stores, surviving both the birth of streaming and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Owner Denis Howard has been running the spot for the past five years after taking it over from the previous owners. He said staying creative has been a necessity, especially during the pandemic. 

"I'm not saying I don't have my nights where I feel like, 'Is this what the dodo felt like?' as we're plotting along," Howard said.  

Howard had used the shop's mail slot and windows as a way for customers to browse, pick up, and drop off movies without contact. 

"Suddenly we were doing emails, social media ... We delivered on a four-wheeler to a guy in Waldo," Howard said. "Hard years for a video rental store, but I'd like to think we made it through the worst."

The store offers a wide selection of DVDs, Blue-Ray, and even VHS tapes to rent for three days at around four dollars apiece. 

Despite the convenience of streaming, Howard said his customers still enjoy browsing the store for a movie and returning them when they're done. 

"Customers are incredibly loyal to us, and we have some customers that have been coming all 28 years," Howard said. "They don't mind paying late fees, they'll rent five movies at once, they'll rent multiple movies.."

Gabriya Snell-MacRae, 23, has been a returning customer. She was in just sixth grade when her local stores started disappearing. For many customers like her, it's the human connection that leads to the best recommendations. 

"People are complicated. Like you can't just put me in a box, and Netflix does that. But Denis knows my taste and knows my interest," Snell-MacRae explained.

From the other side of the counter, that human interaction is something you don't witness often nowadays.

"One of the most gratifying moments here is when a customer walks in and returns a movie and says, 'I loved this movie, it's the best movie I've ever seen,' and they walk out," Howard explained. "Another customer comes around the corner and says, 'What were they talking about?'"

You can visit Opera House Video every Monday through Saturday.

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