It’s Friday, and money is tight.
The bars are pricey, and you decide to opt for a night at home with friends while kicking back and watching a movie and taking part in one of the great past-times of college life.
Thereâ€™s only one problem: Itâ€™s not on Netflix. Ordering would take too long, and illegal download quality looks like it was pirated from a drive-in theater 15 years ago.
But all hope is not lost â€“â€“ not if the folks at the family-owned Village Vidiot have anything to say about it.
Tucked away in a small strip mall along Elizabeth Street less than a five-minute walk from campus, the Vidiot remains a hidden gem among ma-and-pa shops in Fort Collins. You wouldn’t guess that while looking at the dated building behind Panhandlerâ€™s Pizza, but upon entering the store and facing yellow walls lined with DVDs, video games and even VHS tapes, the vastness of the collection begins to hit.
â€œWe tailor the store to the community,â€ said Scott Shepherd, the owner and founder of the Vidiot, stressing that few others in the business have the options and the staff. â€œWe try as hard as we can to catch every person that comes in, and youâ€™re never going to get that online.â€
Look around for a few more moments, and the girl at the counter will probably strike up a conversation with you. Even more common, people will ask the most off-the-wall questions imaginable, with topics ranging from starring actors to the most minor of extras in a B-list film.
No matter how obscure the question, they always have an answer â€“â€“ or at least will find one.
Having served Fort Collins for more than 20 years, co-owners Shepherd and his daughter, Kira Dunn, set the bar high for the family-owned business by providing the best selection of anything and everything within the estimated 45,000 items on the shelves.
But the immense selection isn’t all that separates the independent retailer from the giants of the day. Both owners take pride in getting to know their customers, from the casual movie watcher to the cult-classic guru.
Itâ€™s boils down to one thing for Shepherd: quality over convenience.
â€œKeep your family happy, and theyâ€™ll be with you the rest of your life,â€ Shepherd said. â€œThatâ€™s what I try to do with my customers. I give you the best I can give, and I think you should leave happy.â€
From Living Room Arcade to 5-Roomed Video Haven
Shepherd cooked up the idea of a video game store out of his living room in Hutchinson, Kan., during the hey-day of Atari nearly 35 years ago.
Fast-forward to around 1990, and the family business found itself thriving in Fort Collins in a strip mall along College Avenue amid rapidly changing economic times.
As the years passed and gaming and video platforms changed with technology, Shepherd did not go the way of so many other retailers and rental shops; he adapted by growing his share of VHS, games and all things related.
â€œYou donâ€™t just carry what makes you money,â€ Shepherd said.
Shepherd and Dunn, among other family members who have worked with the store, have witnessed how the market has changed and ultimately evolved from a small arcade to a full-blown movie-central hub for the city.
The family business was starting to stick.
The toughest part of the constant moves was balancing good location and affordable rental rate â€“â€“ the often overlooked element of any retail operation.
â€œAs much as I want to say we’ll be around, you just don’t know,â€ Dunn said. â€œWe’re really, really lucky to be running a family business in this kind of economy for so long.â€
The ongoing struggle in todayâ€™s world
The folks at the Vidiot have seen their share of tough times, ranging from the rise and fall of the Blockbuster to the surge of digital streaming. Unable to afford major advertising campaigns in the competitive market forces the business to rely on regulars and word-of-mouth to drive business.
The business got more complicated when Blockbuster moved to town, seemingly ending video stores overnight. But Shepherd explained that Blockbuster-type stores lack variety â€“â€“ something he takes pride in.
â€œWhen you think of it, Blockbuster is filling a niche, whereas we have all of the niches covered,â€ Shepherd said. â€œI try to cover everything thatâ€™s ever been hot.â€
And if he doesnâ€™t have it, he will find a way to get it.
He explained that Blockbuster and similar outlets seek to do one thing in his mind: destroy the competition. Since Blockbuster rose to fame, it has floundered and forced shut-downs around the country as they continue to move to the online forum.
Neither a representative from Blockbuster nor its parent company, Dish Communications, was available for comment at the time of publication.
â€œWe do what we can, and we donâ€™t think about long-term as much,â€ Dunn said. â€œThere’s only so much you can do, and we just get the movies every week and specialize in what we can.â€
Matters at the store were further complicated a couple years ago when Shepherd faced the challenge of a lifetime in his personal world: cancer.
But it didnâ€™t affect him like many would think.
When he learned he had throat cancer, that didnâ€™t stop him from pursuing success at his store. Instead, he only took off five days from work after the surgery. He doesnâ€™t let the perseverance define him, though, and said people go through much worse and do much more.
â€œYou have to show people that’s not going to get you down,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s why they come to me.â€
The unknowns of today continue to complicate life for the modern small-business owner, and this is especially true to Shepherd and Dunn.
Currently, Dunn is balancing a return to school to pursue another degree in business management â€“ no easy feat while spending 40 hours each week at the store and only getting two full days off each month.
But that doesnâ€™t hinder their desire to make the atmosphere in the store as comfortable as possible for new visitors.
Aundrea Leslie, a 22-year-old Fort Collins resident, had never been to the shop before Wednesday evening, but after setting up a rental account in just a couple of minutes, she is sure to return.
â€œIt’s enjoyable and feels more like home,â€ she said. â€œI love renting movies. I love that every movie store is different.â€
Her boyfriend Nico Grande was visiting from Cheyenne and agreed that old stores like the Vidiot offer a sense of being at home rather than being in a corporate selling-house. Partially thanks to the â€˜80s-esque arcade games combined with the endless selection, he said he hopes the business presses on, even through the darkest days of video rentals.
â€œThere’s a love for retro and keeping older things, and I think that it will always exist,â€ Grande said. â€œKeep it alive for the right reasons. Keep it alive because you love it.â€
If Shepherd and Dunn have anything to say about it, they will continue to upgrade the stock, look for a better location and work to be competitive and helpful every step of the way. Above all, they stress making do with what they have as the environment changes around them.
â€œThere’s something to be said about going into a store and looking at things,â€ Kira said. â€œI like to shop online myself, but if I have the option, I’ll pay a couple bucks more just to go to the store and buy it. Just give us a chance.â€
Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at email@example.com.
About the Village Vidiot
1220 W. Elizabeth St., behind Panhandlerâ€™s Pizza
DVD, Blu-Ray, VHS, video game rentals, sales
About 35,000 items
Largest selection of Japanese Anime in the state
Phone: (970) 482-2742
1 Night: $2.50 plus tax
1 Night: $1:50 plus tax
Overdue is $1 per day.