Bucking the trend

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer September 14, 2011 08:45 pm

Jason Pellerin and his wife Megan Pointer-Pellerin recently opened the Peanut Gallery, a video rental store, on Jefferson Avenue downtown. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer
Jason Pellerin and his wife Megan Pointer-Pellerin recently opened the Peanut Gallery, a video rental store, on Jefferson Avenue downtown. BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH / The Observer

Pair opens movie rental store on Jefferson Avenue

Business people daring to to buck modern trends need one thing above all else: passion for their product.

Jason Pellerin and his wife, Megan Pointer-Pellerin, have it, and they’re betting it will carry them into a bright future.

About three months ago, on Jefferson Avenue downtown, the young La Grande couple opened The Peanut Gallery, the kind of movie rental store that’s fast vanishing from the landscape, locally and elsewhere.

They embarked on the venture because they wanted to be in business for themselves, but also because they love movies. They watch them all the time, and they’ve got some firm ideas about what other people want when they go out to rent a film.

The Redbox rental kiosks popping up all over town these days leave a lot to be desired, Jason said.

“Part of the experience is being able to pick the DVD up, look at it and see what it’s about, maybe talk about it and see if it’s recommended,” he said. “Another thing is, people don’t like waiting in line like they have to at a kiosk.”

The kiosks, the Internet and subscription services all have played a part in the shutting of hundreds of Blockbuster Video stores in recent years, including two in La Grande.

Blockbuster’s La Grande Town Center location closed down in June 2008, and the store at Fourth Street and Adams Avenue went out in August 2010. The latter closure left the city completely without a traditional rental store.

The Pellerins, with their love for movies, decided to fill the void, but didn’t have much business expertise. They turned to Eastern Oregon University’s Small Business Development Center for help.

That, said Jason, was a wise move.

“I don’t think we could have done this without them. They have loads of experience in everything from small start-ups to multi-million dollar businesses,” he said.

The couple took free business classes at the center and received plenty of personalized advice and encouragement from Center Director Greg Smith. When it came time to take the plunge, the center helped them arrange the financing.

Jason said starting up was no easy thing, but Smith and others at the center helped by pointing out many possible pitfalls.

“When I go into something I tend to get real excited, think the world’s my oyster and that I can’t fail. They were good at helping me keep things in perspective,” he said.

 Scouting locations, the couple hungrily eyed a vacant storefront on Adams Avenue in the heart of the business district, and almost took it. Smith, however, counseled that the rent was more than the business could stand in its nascent state.

The couple heeded the advice and rented the spot at 1406 Jefferson instead. They opened their business at the end of May, and have since found that many people do still want to come out to a store, browse the racks and talk movies.

“I’ve heard a lot of negative things about the kiosks, and Netflix is raising their rates while reducing services. From the feedback I’ve gotten, people are really excited that the store’s here,” Jason said.

At this point, the store is small and the selection is not as varied as the Pellerins hope to make it.

To keep business flowing, the couple offers films at rock-bottom prices, and have a program where customers renting 10 films get the next one free.

The Peanut Gallery also does custom orders. But the main objective day-to-day, Jason said, is to make sure the store has all the popular new releases.

“We get the videos the Friday before they’re released, then we put them out on the release date. I want people to get the new movies when they’re new,” he said.

Jason said he is certain there is still a need for a store like the Peanut Gallery, despite all the new-fangled home entertainment delivery options available these days.

“I know we’ll never be able to retire off this, but Redbox and Netflix aren’t where they need to be yet. For the next few years I think we’ll still be the best way to rent movies,” he said.

The Peanut Gallery is open 2 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 2 p.m. to midnight Friday, and noon to midnight Saturdays.

The phone number is 541-605-0280, and the web address is www.peanutgallerymovies.com.