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In Louisville's Portland Neighborhood, Video Store Struggles As Faster Internet Arrives

Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Tim Bruederle spends much of his time in a worn leather computer chair behind the counter of Portland Video. From his seat, he can see the four rows of DVDs out front for rent — divided into new releases, action, horror and comedy.

He can also keep an eye on his nine-year-old cat, Babysocks, whose food bowl is under an out-of-order popcorn machine in the back.

Thirty years ago, Bruederle's "Portland Video" was the first movie rental shop in the neighborhood.

“When we first opened up, it was great,” Bruederle said. “It was a booming business at first. You know, there were VCRs. We’d rent out [tapes] and every weekend people would get them and we did real good.”

But that’s not the case now.

“We're 'bout ready to go out,” he said. “People aren't coming in anymore.”

Considering that it's been almost a decade since Hollywood Video filed bankruptcy and Blockbuster first started closing its stores, it's impressive that Bruederle has held on this long. But walking into Portland Video definitely feels like a little bit of a time warp.

Bruederle takes down customers' information on Post-it notes, nineties rom-coms dominate the shelf-space, and behind the counter, he displays a "wall of shame," which is a bulletin board covered with the names of people who haven't returned their rentals.

“That's the people who owe me money,” Bruerderle said. “Shame on them. I mean, what else in this business are you gonna do? You can't go to their door.”

For many decades, the Portland neighborhood has been one of the poorest areas of Louisville.

But thanks to recent revitalization efforts, things are changing. Shotgun houses are getting fixed up, new businesses are opening, and last month, Portland became one of the first Louisville neighborhoods hooked up to Google Fiber’s “ultra-high speed Internet service.”

For many in the redeveloping neighborhood — including lifelong residents who have long struggled with spotty Internet access — this is great news.

But Bruederle said one of the reasons Portland Video has lasted so long is precisely because much of the neighborhood didn't have that access.

“You can get anything on the Internet — videos, movies — so they're going to stop coming in,” he said.

Sandy Case-Rogers owns Sandy’s Florist, a small shop that smells like orchids as soon as the door swings open; it’s about a block away from Portland Video.

Case-Rogers was born and raised in Portland and remembers getting movies at the shop with her family — mostly VHS tapes.

Today, she says she’s not a huge Internet-user and doesn’t personally stream movies much (“Just not enough time in the day,” she said, gesturing to orders in the back of the shop), but she owns rental properties in Portland where Google Fiber has been installed nearby.

“And I’m sure my tenants are pretty excited,” Case-Rogers said. “And it’s something I’m definitely going to look into.”

She says this is just part of the changing neighborhood, which has its pros — and obviously,  for people like Bruederle, its cons.

“You know, I hate to see any business down here close, even though I’m not a regular base customer,” Case-Rogers said. “I love these buildings on what I call out business district, us on the main drag here.”

Bruederle says he's changing too. A few years ago he painted the outside of Portland Video a bright orange and strung up some Christmas lights.

“Just to make it pop out,” he explains.

He’s also stocking some newer releases, like “Cars 3,” which a customer returned that day.

But he knows it’s just a matter of time.

While Bruederle owns the building — and actually lives in the space behind the video store — he filed for bankruptcy several years ago.

“I have to pay that off before I can quit,” he said. “That’ll be it. I’m getting ready to retire.”

In the meantime, though, Bruederle says he’s lucky to make $20 a day.


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