Frank’s store frontage… look your last. Fiona Maureen photos

Business closes, marking the end of an era

Movie Experts say “So long Fort St. James, and thank you all.”

“I’d like too say thank you to my customers and all the people I’ve known. It’s been a pleasure to meet so many people,” says Frank Schroeder.

Frank started his business adventure with Nechako Valley Electronics Ltd. in the mid seventies and he believes there’s only one other business in Fort St. James that has been around longer, and that’s the Classic Restaurant.

Eventhough he’s been in the movie rental business he says he hasn’t watched most of the videos he’s had in his store. His passion has been for “The business side and getting to know people and what they like.”

“You have to get to know your clientele,” he says, “That’s the only way your business will succeed.”

“Everybody has different tastes, of course, so it’s hard to recommend a movie. I personally like Action SciFi films.”

Frank has been a member of ‘Movie Experts’ located in Ontario. They have a membership network of around 1,000 stores and they have people who watch all the films and write reviews and keep updated their list of the Top 50 recommended or most popular movies people want to rent. It’s from that list that Frank chooses what to bring in.

The Movie Experts website describes the service they provide as a sales, marketing and information organisation. They help provide independent video store owners “The opportunity to grow their revenues by working together, sharing ideas, information and resources while benefiting from the strong voice of a unified team. Our member’s stores are mostly located in small communities, while others can be found in large urban centres, but they all share one common goal – to work together and ensure that everyone maximizes the potential of their business.” And that’s clearly what Frank tapped into.

Frank has been a successful entrepreneur. At the peak of the movie rental demand Frank would rent as much as 300 movies per week but lately it’s been down to 40 – 50 at the most.

He’s not just been committed to business. Frank loves soccer and he has given back to the community by sponsoring youth league teams and for the past 30 years Frank has also volunteered leading a drop-in indoor soccer club for adults and youth 16 and older. The drop-in soccer is at the high school during the school year every Tuesday and Thursday 8:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. He trusts the club will continue on after he’s left and has no doubt folks will step up to keep it going.

Despite his entrepreneurial savvy Frank has had to overcome some challenges with changes in technology and fluctuating market conditions. He noticed his business really take a hit after the local movie theatre closed down. He found that the film circuit created a buzz around new films and there was lots of PR. He got posters and there was advertising for the films which meant that two to three months after they film shows in the cinema circuit, when the movies came out in stores, then people already know about it and naturally instead of buying it they often choose to rent the movie.

He rented out DVD players as well, especially over weekends it was popular.

The big Canfor strike around 1982 – 1983 lasted several months and “Just about brought the town to it’s knees,” recalls frank. Canfor employed 300 – 400 people at the time and they were out of work and the whole town suffered. “It almost killed half the businesses in town. At that time interest rates were at 18% and we had loans to pay.”

Frank didn’t give up. He diversified his business in order to remain resilient. He started The Stuart Lake Tea Company part of his business selling specialty teas he ordered in from the Toronto Metropolitan Tea Company. They sell high end packaged or loose leaf teas they source from “the cream of the crop from the world’s top 10% producers.” Frank also occasionally brought in some of their line of teapots and accessories.

Back in 1990s early 2000s he also had arcade games and pool tables, the precursor to Xbox games.

He also grew to include the Clear Choice Water filtration and bottling business.

There were as many as eight movie rental stores in Fort St. James at one time around the mid 80s. Movie Gallery being the biggest name competitor.

Frank believes that the movie business thrived here “Because of the remoteness of Fort St. James and because there wasn’t high speed internet,” he says.

But the main secret to staying in business, when other movie rental stores shut their doors, came down to just one thing, Frank explains. What differentiated him from the others is he owned his own building, “Whereas everyone else paid rent.” His building was particularly economical because it had living quarters attached to the back of the store. The property goes all the way down to the lake and Frank and Mary have lived there and enjoyed the convenience and the gorgeous view of the lake.

Frank’s favourite part of his work has definitely been meeting people.

“The 30 – 40 year old customers he has, he knew when they were just eight or nine. He used to take work as a substitute teacher as well so he got to know the students that way too, not just through the store.

The starting of a new chapter for Frank and Mary Schroeder will be bittersweet. Looking ahead and forward to retirement and yet fondly treasuring the town that has supported their business and been home to them for so long.

“We have had good times here. Our kids grew up here.”

Frank’s final day of business was Tuesday last week. But he’s still going to be around for a bit winding down his stock over the next couple of months. He’s moving his inventory over to the vacant Timberman’s Restaurant building where he’ll have a clearance sale through till everything is gone hopefully by October.

Frank has sold to Scott Croucher who will be renovating through the month of August to get ready to open the new location of his MXV gym in September. The gym will appear bigger than Frank’s store because there’s actually another 1,500 square feet that he’s closed off. The total area of the gym will be around 4,000 square feet once Scott’s taken opened up the whole space.

Frank’s wife, Mary, has worked many years at the School District doing accounting and bookkeeping. When asked what the tea leaves say about their retirement plans, Frank replied; “Honestly I haven’t got a clue! We’ll probably go down south and then East to Toronto and Ottawa.” That’s where he has family, children who moved away about 18 years ago.

Frank and Mary stayed on in the Fort after their children left town, but now they feel it’s time to put the tea and popcorn aside and wind down the life they built here. They won’t be slowing down though. They don’t yet know how the plot will unfold, but they’ll jump right ahead and take on their leading roles in a brand new action adventure of their own.

 

Going, going, gone! Movie Experts DVD’s clearance while stocks last.

Stuart Lake Tea Company will wind down its inventory over the next couple of months. Photo Fiona Maureen

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