Fade to Black

As Blockbuster and other big chains devour more and more of the market, mom-and-pop video shop operators fret about being erased

"There was another controversy over Blockbuster violating street-date restrictions [distributors may ship out copies of a movie a few days before it is scheduled to be released; stores are not supposed to rent these out until a day recognized industrywide as the street date]. Blockbuster is a member of the VSDA, but their stores make up only about ten percent of the national membership. When an issue like that comes up, there's an uproar and things change."

But they haven't changed enough to please Richard Zeeman as he lumbers through South Florida traffic in his sixteen-year-old van. "From '89 to now it's gone straight downhill and don't let anybody tell you different," he admonishes. "And a big part of that is Blockbuster going into areas with a lot of mom-and-pops and blowing them away. [My old customers] used to pay me for service, credibility, advice, and experience, and they offered their customers the same things. Those things don't seem to count much to people any more."

If Rene Curbelo is a shining example of the old wave of independent video-store owners, Kevin and Rose Yoham of Cinema Pizza represent the new breed. It doesn't get any more mom-and-pop than this husband-and-wife team who share a house with their three daughters and a cat named Sparky just around the corner from the small store they opened a few months ago in Country Walk. Kevin, age 30, is a former video store clerk and Domino's Pizza employee who, with the help of a loan from his father, finally has realized his dream of combining the two businesses under one roof. Thirty-two-year-old Rose is an insurance adjuster with a sharp eye for detail and a drive to develop their concept into a national chain.

"We bought our house, started the business, and got married within a couple of months," chirps the quick-talking Rose, a petite dynamo who would be played by either Holly Hunter or Markie Post should the Yohams' story ever make it to film (or video). While quieter than his wife and built like a construction worker (a job he held after Hurricane Andrew), Kevin is equally optimistic about Cinema Pizza's chances for whetting customers' -- and potential investors' and franchisees' -- appetites.

"The store's only been open eight months, and we've only had pizza for two. We haven't even done any advertising yet, but we're already getting a lot of orders. The response has been great," he says enthusiastically. "The idea of combining food and other types of entertainment has been around for a while. McDonald's has sold videos, Taco Bell sells CDs. But as far as we know, no one in South Florida is doing what we're doing, combining food, video, and delivery. But it seems like a natural."

"We had to pull licenses and permits for two separate businesses," adds Rose. "We have two separate sales tax numbers. It makes the bookkeeping a real chore. Everybody [at the licensing offices] said we were the first. We're really excited." And definitely not dead.

Of course Ernesto Tornabell was excited once, too. "What happened was, I didn't know enough. Location, location, location A that was the main reason [that Astro failed]," he surmises. "I started out making profits. But by '92 Blockbuster was coming on, other stores had opened, and people just weren't as interested in renting movies. I wish I had advertised differently. But that's all Monday-morning quarterbacking. Would I go back into it now? Hell, no. The future's called AT&T and the RCA mini-satellite dish. You can even kiss Blockbuster goodbye. [Former Blockbuster chairman H. Wayne] Huizenga's not a dumb guy. He got out while the getting is good.

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