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The last of a vanishing breed

Walking into Joey's Video Stop on 12th Street, owner Joey Le is offering comfort to a distraught woman. She's been robbed and had her heart broken by the same man.

Walking into Joey's Video Stop on 12th Street, owner Joey Le is offering comfort to a distraught woman. She's been robbed and had her heart broken by the same man. Le spends 20 minutes with her walking through the aisles, picking out the perfect movies to inspire perseverance, healing and redemption. With the right titles picked, Le sends her off with the movies free of charge.

It's the type of customer and human interaction Le lives for and it's likely the reason he's still in business while Blockbuster is selling off the last of its stock and closing for good.

With the exception of the Rogers Plus store in Columbia Square, Joey's Video Stop is the last dedicated, bricks-and-mortar movie rental shop in New Westminster.

"They key is, I do this business for the love of this business. I've loved movies since I was a child," he said. "In this shop, I have 7,000 titles on DVD. Pick up one box. I will tell you the story, who was in it, when it was made. I remember them."

T he store has been in business since 1982 when it opened in the plaza across the street. Le became the seventh owner when he took over in 2002.

Le has his own theories on why Blockbuster has gone the way of Betamax and VHS. In addition to the increased competition from legal and illegal movie downloading, movie delivery by mail, automated DVD rental kiosks and other forms of entertainment, Le said Blockbuster put too much emphasis on new releases while their older collection was lacking.

"They just bring in titles that will make profit for them in the short term, but they forgot about long term," he said.

He said their store sizes and staffing levels were also too big to be maintained if revenues were to drop.

By contrast, Le and his staff of two try to keep the shelves stocked with big studio moneymakers but also with independent, Canadian and lower-budget movies that are well done.

And older DVD rentals make up the largest part of his business.

Le also keeps a wide selection of VHS tapes on the shelves - a format film distributors abandoned in 2002. Le said keeping them around is a bit like saving rental stores.

an endangered species, or in this case, endangered works of film art.

"Up to now, there are still a lot of movies haven't been duplicated on DVD yet," he said, grabbing a copy of the 1939 version of Wuthering Heights, starring Laurence Olivier.

"This is a classic collection, and it hasn't been turned into a DVD. . If we don't hang on to this movie, one day someone will be looking for it, and it won't be here."

And while VHS rentals aren't paying the store's rent, he said he has some customers who never made the switch to DVDs themselves.

"One gentleman comes in to rent five every Friday," he said.

A nd Le isn't just playing armchair economist when it comes to the fall of Blockbuster.

He's got the credentials to back up what he's talking about. Le earned his master's degree in business administration from UBC last August and he's signed up to begin working on his business PhD in 2013. And he's been following the video rental market's ups and downs very closely, giving him some keen insight into Blockbuster's demise that goes well beyond the simple explanation that the Internet killed the video rental industry.

"They have $70 million of debt for the stock they haven't paid for. That put them under the water. They were looking for someone to buy, but they wanted someone to buy the whole company," he said. "Wind Mobile wanted to buy the lease, but they don't want to buy the stock, and Blockbuster wouldn't have that happen. If it were me, I would say, 'Sure' and sell out the lease."

As for how Blockbuster Canada's disappearance from the scene is affecting him, Le said it began months ago when Blockbuster's parent company announced they would be closing 145 stores (though none locally). "

"From that day on, I've had at least two new customers a day on weekdays. On the weekends, sometimes five to 10 new customers," he said. "I get people calling from Surrey, to make sure I'm still open. They come from Surrey to get here."

B ut watching Le interact with his customers, it quickly becomes plain that he isn't just renting movies - he's offering something that would not be included in a video rental franchise's employee training video.

Hardly anyone passes by his storefront without waving and Joey shouting, "Hi, how are you?" They often take a few minutes out of their day to come in and chat.

And some who start out just as customers become dear friends.

Midway through the conversation, it so happens Le's "most faithful customer" comes through the door. In the more than 20 years Karen Blackburn has been renting exclusively from Video Stop, she has taken home 3,643 movies.

"I come in here to see Joey every day," Blackburn said.

Blackburn and her family don't subscribe to cable or Internet movie streaming websites and they won't be missing Blockbuster because they never did business there.

"I've never really gone to big companies because they charge too much.

There's too much trouble with late fees, and they're not personal. We've always gone to small business like Joey's," she said, clutching a handful of older movies to take home. "I'd much rather support someone I know than support a big corporation."

And Le's prices are substantially lower than Blockbuster's were. Le charges $3 for new releases on weeknights and $4 on weekends. Older movies are $1 for an entire week and Le doesn't charge more for renting Blu-ray disks.

In keeping with Le's philosophy of putting his community ahead of his own pocketbook, he also donates all of his revenue from one day a month to local charities.

A fter the customers have gone, Le leans in and, in a hushed tone, confesses why he is the last man standing.

"To tell you the truth, this shop is not about money. At the end of the month, when every bill is paid, there's nothing left but I'm happy to wake up every morning because I'm doing something positive. Lucky for me, I don't have a mortgage or debt or much overhead," Le said. "Some people came in last week and said 'Joey, we wonder how long can you last here?

Because everybody is shutting down,' and I looked at them and said, 'I will be here until the neighbourhood doesn't need me anymore.'"

Indeed, Le said he is already being courted for a teaching position at UBC when he has finished his PhD, but he has no intention of leaving Joey's Video Stop.

"They say, in this world, if you can find a job that you love, you're the luckiest man alive," Le said. "Truly, it's the perfect job for me to do."