THE year is 1982 and Gary and Norma McDonough are young and ambitious.
Seasoned businesspeople and bankers raise their eyebrows as they pitch their idea for a rental video store in The Junction.
“We started young,” Mr McDonough said. “And I can tell you they did raise their eyebrows. The industry itself was an unknown, still in its infancy, they thought these two don’t know what they’re doing.”
The 20-somethings carried on.
Video Ezy at The Junction opened its doors, days before its closest rival, and a new industry – and a new life – was born.
Sooner or later the McDonoughs built up a healthy library of movies. The world cinema section was a particular source of joy. It played right into Mr McDonough’s love and passion for everything on the screen.
In 1998, the duo opened their second video store at Marketown.
Now, 35 years after that journey first began, the end of the road is here.
The curtain will close on Newcastle’s last video store on Sunday, ejected by rapidly changing industry and even faster evolving consumer trends.
“The sun has finally set,” Mr McDonough said. “The traditions of visiting the video store after school on a Friday or a wet weekend are gone.”
It is a world away from the industry’s heyday, where Mr McDonough estimates the Hunter boasted dozens of video stores, bringing Hollywood blockbusters to people’s homes and living rooms.
The reasons for McDonough closing the Marketown store are mixed.
There are the obvious challenges that the video rental industry has weathered over the past decade, brought about by online piracy and video streaming and on-demand services, that was “slow burn” before the wick finally ran out.
But a personal tragedy also forced Mr McDonough to re-evaluate and focus on his four children.
The sun has finally set. The traditions of visiting the video store after school on a Friday or a wet weekend are gone.Gary McDonough
Norma McDonough – Mr McDonough’s much-loved wife, business partner and “rock” – died suddenly in December last year.
The past six months have been hard for the McDonoughs, who have had to say goodbye to two of their biggest constants.
But closing the Marketown store, four years after The Junction store closed, has also been a moment of reflection and celebration.
It was an industry that “paid dividends”, Mr McDonough said, not just to his family but to generations of Novocastrians.
He prides himself on the fact he was fortunate enough to give scores of young people their first job.
He found a staff Christmas card recently. It boasted 39 names.
“The customers we’ve had over the years have been second to none,” Mr McDonough said.
“We’ve had loyal people right from day one. We’ve still had people coming in from the first day we opened our store at The Junction 35 years ago. I’ve seen their families grow up. And the kids that came in pushing the movies off the shelf, a lot of them ended up working for us.”
Mr McDonough said working at the video store was a “rite of passage”.
“At the end of the day, it was a great job … they learnt retail skills, they learnt how to talk to the public,” he said.
“That grounding that was given at a retail level, dealing with all sorts of personalities, it kept them in good stead. They might not have thought it at the time, but there were life skills learnt there.”
Mr McDonough isn’t bitter with how it ended.
Some industries live hundreds of years, he said, while others don’t. “That’s just the way it is,” he said.
The only sombre point, Mr McDonough said, is that his wife – his partner throughout it all – won’t be there for the store’s last day.
“We had great times, we were a partnership,” he said. “Yeah, proud is a good word. I’m just really happy we did it and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”