Netflix and the pandemic mean London's last DVD hire shop that outlived Blockbuster closes its doors

A small independent DVD rental store in the UK capital has outlived the area's Blockbuster, but was finally forced to close its doors
For Your Eyes Only in Forest Hill, LondonFor Your Eyes Only in Forest Hill, London
For Your Eyes Only in Forest Hill, London

A small independent DVD rental store in the UK capital has outlived Blockbuster but was finally forced to close its doors following two car crashes, the pandemic, and the rise of streaming and piracy. This all means that the final credits have now played out for London's last remaining video rental shop.

For Your Eyes Only in Forest Hill was opened 25 years ago by Gulam Charania who has run the store since. In its heyday, residents around the southeast London area would queue out of the door to get their hands on new releases. But unforeseen events mean the store's time has finally come to an end.

Mr Charania, who lives in Orpington, Kent, said: “This store was a community hub. I’ve had a few people coming in really, really upset that we’re closing. I’ve seen people who have moved out of the area come back over the years just to reminisce and say, ‘I’m so glad you’re still here’.

“All the families used to come in, it was brilliant. Now, far fewer people have DVD players. But what happens if your internet goes? You’re stuffed.

“Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights people would queue out the door. It would be heaving. Now I see kids ask their mums when they go past, ‘What’s a DVD shop?’. They don’t know."

The store and ‘community hub’ has outlived Blockbuster by over a decade and swatted away competing stores thanks to an army of loyal, film-loving customers who will mourn its demise.

The video store stocked over 11,000 DVDs, Blu-Rays and video games and boasts actors such as Stephen Graham - who once lived just down the road from the shop - Con O’Neill and Hugo Speer amongst its more famous customers.

For Your Eyes Only in Forest Hill, LondonFor Your Eyes Only in Forest Hill, London
For Your Eyes Only in Forest Hill, London

After a car decimated the shopfront for the second time last summer in a scene out of a Hollywood film, the store was forced to close for three-and-a-half months.

The father-of-two and grandad-of-four opened the doors of his store - believed to be the last video rental store in London and one of the last in the UK - back in 1998, having been inspired by his love of film.

He added: “I love the films of the 80s and 90s. “Your Rambos, Star Wars…

“It’s just CGI now - it’s not as good as it used to be. But there are still good films being made.”

Over the years, Mr Charania has successfully batted away buyout offers and big-money competitors such as Blockbuster - perhaps the most famous movie rental company in the world, which opened and later shut in the area during his 25-year tenure.

On his secret to outliving the video rental giant by a decade, the shop owner revealed he would receive early releases of the hottest new films from his trusted suppliers, most of whom have also now shut up shop.

Another shop, Apollo Video, once even offered Mr Charania £25,000 to buy his store out - which he rejected.

The lifelong Chelsea fan insists that though the rise of streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ has taken some of his business, video piracy took more when it first emerged.

DVD rental was big business before the rise of streaming servicesDVD rental was big business before the rise of streaming services
DVD rental was big business before the rise of streaming services

Mr Charania said: “When Netflix started it was cheap. Now, I am getting people moaning, saying: ‘Why are you closing down? Netflix is rubbish’. But there are so many streaming services now.”

On the impact of people illegally pirating films and TV shows, he added: “One of my friend’s shops was doing an unbelievable trade before people began pirating films. Then people started saying, ‘I’ve seen that one online, I’ve seen that one…’.”

Mr Charania added that his trade had risen by around 80 per cent before the pandemic, but lockdown put a quick end to this. He says he will now look for another job, as he’s not ready to retire. But the sadness he feels after locking up for the last time on Monday, November 13 will take some time to recover from.

He added: “I’m holding it together, but I am going through a sort of depression. This is the end of an era. That’s it. I have had some great times here and got to know lots of people. Now I am going to have to find a job.”

A GoFundMe page was set up by supporters in March this year after the news spread that For Your Eyes Only may be forced to close its doors once-and-for-all all - though Mr Charania had nothing to do with it.

He says the £2,300 it raised helped him pay the bills for a few months, but that his ever-waning customer base meant his business was no longer sustainable.

Australian teaching assistant Margherita D’Angelo, however, will be disappointed to see the store go.

The mother-of-one, who is in her fifties and still watches DVDs, has a membership with the store and wonders where she will go to rent films in the future.

She said: “I have come here every now and then for a few years now. There aren’t any more around. I used to work in a Blockbusters in Australia myself, actually. It’s really sad it’s closing.

“I think it’s an age thing. I just moved house and brought my DVD player with me. There are some things you can’t get on streaming platforms. But, I’m surprised it has lasted this long, I have to say.”

James Blimsa, a father of two who works in security, grew up in Forest Hill and was delighted to see the shop was still there when he revisited the area three years ago, though he’s equally saddened to hear that it’s now closing.

The 37-year-old, who now lives in Tunbridge Wells in Kent, said: “I couldn’t believe it was still there. It was the same guy who owned it when I was a kid. I have fantastic memories… It was a reason for friends to get together.

“I didn’t want to say to him that I don’t even own a DVD player anymore because times have moved on. Even when I was explaining it to my 12-year-old son, he said how amazing it sounded.

Mr Charania added he hopes DVDs may ride a wave of nostalgia and make a comeback in future, much like vinyl records have.

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