Classic Video closes after 35 years in business

Kingston’s last remaining video rental business, Classic Video, has shut its doors after more than 30 years. Photo by Dylan Chenier/Kingstonist.

A long-time Kingston business has rented out its final film and shut its doors for good. On Tuesday, Apr. 25, 2023, Tom Ivison, owner of Classic Video, took to social media to announce that he had closed up shop at the popular downtown location. “After more than 35 years, Classic Video is now officially closed,” read the post. 

Many took to the comments section to share their sadness at the news that Kingston’s last remaining video rental business had turned out the lights.

“At first I thought this was a joke… Shoot. Sad but totally understandable. Thank you for all the years of great browsing and renting,” commented Gisèle Pharand.

“My heart just shattered into a million pieces,” remarked Adam O’Coin. 

The announcement also drew comparisons to the closing of other prominent Kingston businesses. “Classic is a Kingston institution. In my mind, it’s right up there with S&R, one of those rare Kingston businesses that was a private enterprise yet served an almost public/social role as a place where, while ‘shopping,’ you would inevitably bump into someone you know and end up in a conversation about something,” read a comment from Alec Ross. 

As for why Ivison decided now was the time to close, the owner said business has been slow since the pandemic, as film studios released fewer titles on DVD. “Classic Video was debt free at the beginning of COVID, [but] not so much now in terms of trying to keep everything going. I realized last fall, going into the winter, that sales needed to go back to or close to pre-pandemic levels, and they haven’t… This [past] Sunday, for example, the store sales were $66. On Tuesday, they were $90. The store just can’t survive on those types of sales.” 

While Ivison had been thinking about closing the business for several months, he said he came to a final decision over the Easter weekend.

“I knew in March that things weren’t improving. I had a really good slate of movies come through, from Golden Globe nominees [to] the Oscars, [but] sales were just stagnant,” he shared in an interview with Kingstonist.

“My plan was to go for another five or 10 years, but the reality is… people’s habits have changed through COVID and there are just so many streaming services now. There’s all the premium ones, like Netflix and Apple, or Disney Plus… but there’s also free ones out there like Pluto, Tubi, and YouTube. It’s been pretty hard for myself as a one-man operation, I’ve been running the store on my own for a while now.”

As a video rental store in a sea of endless digital streaming options, Classic quickly became the last of its kind in the Kingston region, outlasting video rental chains like Blockbuster and Jumbo Video. As for what made the downtown Kingston store such a popular spot, Ivison pointed to the human connection.

“For a lot of folks, it’s their social outlet, whether to come and chat with me and rent a movie or when I had more employees, [to talk to them as well],” Ivison expressed.

“It’s similar to running a bar, but without alcohol,” he joked. “You get to know people on a closer level than maybe going to the grocery store. It was quite common for individuals – strangers who didn’t even know each other – to just strike up conversations.”  

A tribute to Ivison was posted on the doors to Classic Video earlier this week. Photo by Dylan Chenier/Kingstonist.

Over the years, Classic became a prominent retail landmark in downtown Kingston, catering to a wide range of clientele from children to seniors. “For years, families would come in – two parents and two kids – everyone would scatter and pick out what they wanted to see. They’d have a group discussion and then head out for movie night,” Ivison said.

When asked what he would miss most, the owner remarked: “It’s the friendships and the social aspect of being in the store and meeting everyone from A to Z. That’s what I will miss most.”

‘The best part-time job a young movie nerd could ever ask for

The news of Classic Video’s closure had many people reminiscing about their time at the store, including previous employees of the business. Jeff Williams worked at Classic from 2004 to 2014 and shared many fond memories of his time working there.

“I was hired in the summer after I graduated from Frontenac Secondary after becoming a regular at the recommendation of some of my teachers. They knew I was a movie geek and they knew where I needed to be. ‘You’re into movies, right? You HAVE to check out this hip little place downtown called Classic Video, you’ll LOVE it,’ They would energetically exclaim,” Williams said. 

After checking out the store and renting countless movies and TV shows, “all on VHS of course,” the recent high school graduate eventually secured a job at his new favourite business. “That had to be the best part-time job a young movie nerd could ever ask for. To go in on a nice summer evening in downtown Kingston, have a Woodenheads Pizza and some Mac’s Milk [snacks] behind the counter, and take turns with your friends and co-workers picking what movies we were going to play through the night on the store’s massive TV screens, was paradise,” remarked Williams. 

Having worked on and off at the popular downtown establishment for 10 years, Williams had his fair share of interesting encounters with customers, including a run-in with legendary Canadian TV and film star Dan Aykroyd. “He was wearing a very slick three-piece pinstripe suit, asked if I could go find him a copy of White Noise (2005) and was incredibly nice, even though I had to ask him how to spell his own last name for the check-out. So many ‘Y’s, Dan!” Williams joked. 

While the customers were certainly interesting, Williams said the animals were “next level.”

“Classic was one of the few businesses downtown that allowed pets in the store and we even had dog treats available for free at the cash register… So many dogs would pull their owner’s arms off from blocks away because they knew they were near Classic Video,” he recalled.

As for what made Classic such a popular spot, Williams pointed to the ability for customers to browse its seemingly endless catalogue of titles: “Sure, the internet may have everything you could ever think to watch, but you have to know what you want to seek out online to watch it. Classic was a place where you could take the time to flip through the stacks and find movies that wouldn’t even occur to you to look for in the first place.” 

In terms of how he felt when he heard the news Classic would be closing, Williams called the announcement “a gut punch,” as he recounted the many “counter-culture hot-posts” in Kingston that have gone out of business. “Night Owl Video, The Sleepless Goat, The Jungle… The Scherzo, and all the seedy dive bars we used to have…. With Classic Video goes another piece of invaluable Kingston culture and an outlet for so many potential creatives and film enthusiasts. So many greasy high-school nerds will never have a teacher tell them in the hall to go down to Classic and rent Heavy Metal or Firefly.”

While the store is officially closed for video rentals, Classic Video will open its doors again beginning Sunday, May 7, 2023, for a tiered inventory sale, which will see the business sell off its remaining stock. On May 7 and 8, all movies and TV seasons will be available for $8 each, with the price set to decrease weekly until the sale ends on Saturday, May 27, 2023. Official liquidation details can be found on Classic Video’s Facebook page. 

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