Video store provides C-U with 20 years of ‘Rentertainment’

By Kate Kostal

The patrons of That’s Rentertainment, a local video store, have been enjoying its services for some time now. In June of 2005, That’s Rentertainment, on the corner of John and Six streets, will celebrate 20 years of business. Geoff Merritt, founder and owner, has seen all 20 years fly by.

“I come here because there’s a lot more selection,” said Champaign resident Adam McKenzie.

“I got one of those $60 for 40 rental video packs, and I don’t get crap e-mails like from Blockbuster,” said Mike Hoffenditz, a resident of Champaign.

“This place kicks ass – there should be more places like this,” Hoffenditz said.

“I had no intention of using my degree for anything,” Merritt said. After graduating from Urbana High School and the University of Illinois with a degree in psychology, he worked for one year in typesetting. After that, he did what he had always wanted to do: he opened a video store.

He wanted to open a record store, but that came later. Soon, Parasol was opened. Parasol is one of the largest places of its kind in the nation. Merritt described Parasol as an “independently owned record label and mail order thing,” which runs six of its own record labels and six record labels for other people.

For That’s Rentertainment, Merritt describes himself as the owner who “does all the ordering” of the videos. He usually orders about 100 videos per week. To find all these films, about 16,000 DVDs currently in stock, Merritt scours independent film magazines and websites. He noted Facets, a video label and video store, as a reliable reference for decent films. The Chicago-based company has helped supply some international films to That’s Rentertainment.

The store communicates with over 20 distributors that each specialize in a type of cinema. Major chains generally use only one distributor.

“There’s one distributor for just anime, one just for Indian/Bollywood movies, one distributor for Asian films,” Merritt said. “I like to find moves that you can’t find anywhere.”

Merritt’s store has entire sections devoted to foreign films, specific genres of cinema like Westerns or stand-up comedy, and there is even a set of shelves with weekly movie picks from the employees. The store never really tried to compete with the larger chains, and Merritt believes this may have helped keep them in business.

“There were 14 independently owned video stores in Champaign-Urbana when we opened. When the big names came in they all shut down. We’re the only one left,” Merritt said.

The large population of international students at the University may find films from their home country hidden among the shelves. If a film is not in stock and Merritt thinks it is worth a look, he can check to see if it is available overseas.

“There are labels in England putting out some cool stuff,” Merritt said.

Merritt’s support of his own local businesses and service for the youth of the area bleed into the community. For five years, he has served on the Board of Governors at the University YMCA. This year, he was named Chair of the Board after serving one year as the vice-chair.

The Board of Governors facilitates special services for the student programs at the YMCA. Instead of fundraising to purchase supplies, student groups can receive aid from the Board.

“We make it so that they don’t have to spend all their time raising money to make Xeroxes,” Merritt said.

The student programs helped by the YMCA are socially and environmentally involved. Some programs raise awareness about human rights while others try to preserve parts of local nature.

“He (Merritt) greatly impacts the ‘Y,'” Rebecca Guyette, Program Director at the University YMCA, said. She handles all the programs at the YMCA and advises the student programs.

“The Board is essentially our steering body. He’s really gone above and beyond. He’s very careful to make sure that we’re going in the right direction,” Guyette said of Merritt. She described him as a person “students know and see as a resource, as someone they can rely on.”

Merritt is also involved with the United Way and has been for four years. He is a member of the Youth Vision Council and is on the Allocation Panel, which decides how to allocate funds collected by the United Way.

A true supporter of grass-roots businesses, Merritt even has information about local businesses on his That’s Rentertainment website. His focus is on keeping these businesses thriving.

“I’m a big fan of locally owned businesses. You should support the local restaurants and local bars when you can.”