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Northlandia: 'We're still here': Nostalgia trip at Twin Ports’ last year-round video rental store

Video Vision and Superior Tan still kicking in Superior.

Amy Sipola, the manager at Video Vision, restocks DVDs on the shelves at the Superior store
Amy Sipola, the manager at Video Vision, restocks DVDs on the shelves at the Superior store Monday afternoon.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Take a left as you walk into Video Vision and Superior Tan, and you’ll arrive at a few small rooms with tanning beds inside. Take a right, though, and you might go on a feature-length nostalgia trip.

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In the Twin Ports’ last year-round video rental store, shelf after shelf touts DVDs and Playstation and Xbox discs — physical mediums that have lost considerable ground to streaming services and digital game downloads — and “Top Gun” is once again a hit. On Mondays, customers can rent a movie for $1.

About six people had patronized the video store by the middle of the afternoon Monday, according to Amy Sipola, who manages both businesses in their shared location on Belknap Street. Most video customers are regulars like Art Larkin, who’s been renting movies there for about 30 years. On Monday, he ducked in to take a quick look through a basket of free DVDs and CDs and return a copy of “Top Gun.”

Tim Nelson looks over the shelves for a DVD to rent at Video Vision in Superior
Tim Nelson looks over the shelves for a DVD to rent at Video Vision in Superior on Monday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Larkin said the movie was good — very good.

“Not 'greatest,'" he said. He believed it deserved four out of five stars. Larkin said he rents from Video Vision because, apart from football games, he doesn’t watch much television.

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Once colorful DVD covers of Dora the Explorer are faded by the sun as they sit on the shelves of the children's movies section near the front window
Once-colorful DVD covers of "Dora the Explorer" are faded by the sun as they sit on the shelves of the children's movies section near the front window facing Belknap Street at Video Vision.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
A sign sits outside of Video Vision along Belknap Street
A sign outside Video Vision advertises $2 used movies.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

And, for his own umpteenth visit, Tim Nelson picked out a copy of “1883,” a prequel to the Western-themed TV series “Yellowstone.”

Nelson, who said he’s a “bit” of a cowboy and wore a hat to prove it, had nothing but praise for the series — “Holy smokes, you’ll be addicted,” he said excitedly — and the store, which has supplied flicks for movie nights with Nelson’s children, who are now grown.

“I actually bought two (DVD) players in case the other one goes,” Nelson said, “because technology is changing so much, you know, and I’m not changing with it.”

Some Video Vision customers don’t want to bother with relatively new technology, according to Sipola, or a college student might show up to the salon and leave with a tan and a DVD. Others are young parents who want to replicate a piece of their childhood for their kids.

Amy Sipola, the manager at Video Vision, sits in one of the newer tanning beds at the Superior store
Amy Sipola, the manager at Video Vision, sits in one of the newer tanning beds at the Superior store Monday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“People that I knew as babies are now adults with their kids coming in,” Sipola said. She has worked at the video store for 37 years. She got the job via her brother, who was dating a friend of the store’s vice president at the time.

“I never left,” Sipola said. “Because we’re like family here, and we work well together. ... (Owner Brian Augustine) always treated us good.”

The business itself, of course, isn’t what it used to be. Video Vision once boasted six stores, Augustine told the Superior Telegram in 2018, and has employed approximately 500 people since it was founded in 1983. The staff there now consists of Sipola and four part-timers.

In the early 1980s, Brian Augustine traded a classic car for a 35-year career.

When Video Vision closed its West Duluth store in 2018, it marked the end of the last year-round video store in Duluth. In Duluth’s Lakeside neighborhood, the eccentrically named 8th Street Ice Cream, Movies and Antiques is a seasonal business that offers movie rentals when it’s open during warmer months.

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The first shall be last. After opening the first video rental store in Duluth nearly 35 years ago, Brian Augustine is in the process of closing the last surviving year-round video store in town.

Business at the Superior store is doing surprisingly well, Sipola said. It’s a “good supplement” to the tanning business, which they added about 10 years ago as the video business flagged, she said.

“We thought we would be done with videos probably about five years ago, and we’re still kickin’,” Sipola said. “Before COVID, we were kind of surprised, and then when COVID (hit), it was like, ‘OK, this is going to be it.’ And we’re still here.”

Tim Nelson talks about renting movies from Video Vision for over 30 years
Tim Nelson talks on Monday about renting movies from Video Vision for over 30 years.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Video Vision manager Amy Sipola laughs as she prints out a receipt for a rental
Video Vision manager Amy Sipola laughs as she prints a receipt for a rental Monday.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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