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Lee & Lona Earl of Top Hat Video

Bountiful video-rental shop is alive, well and stocked with classics

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Lee and Lona Earl
  • Lee and Lona Earl

Try to get classics like Showboat, Singin' in the Rain or Dr. Strangelove from Redbox or Netflix. ... Go ahead, we're not going anywhere. ... Once you've given up, go check out Top Hat Video (521 W. 2600 South, Bountiful, 801-292-2221, TopHatVideo.com), a movie-rental store owned by the same family for the past 32 years. Its collection of both new and classic movies has gained them a bit of a cult following. City Weekly spoke with the owners of Top Hat, Lee and Lona Earl.

What's up with your tagline, "Brine shrimp free since 1983?"
Lee: Oh! That was from our son, he came up with that. His brain just clicks them out. Utah, brine shrimp, it was perfect.

With all of the other video store closures, how are you still here?
Lee: We've really focused it, from the very beginning, on customer service and selection. And that's been successful and it's getting stronger.

How did you build such a loyal clientele? Lee: Part of it is paying attention to the customers. From the beginning, we've said, if you want something, tell us and we'll try to get that in. We took a different approach than other businesses, in that we chose classics instead of always the mainstream titles, so that helped us. We build relationships with families, and those kids had spouses who'd eventually have their kids... so now they're bringing their kids here. So that works.

How do you decide on the movies to carry?
Lee: It's based on box office, cast and rating. Also, our personal preference. We don't bring in NC-17 or things that can offend our community, because the community is important. A lot of our competitors told us, "You're fools, you're missing the big market." No, we know our market.

What does the community gain from having you here?
Lee: We are really a family business. Families can have an experience here that isn't so insanely expensive.

Lona: And a family-owned business that's locally owned and involved in the community, so they support us back, because we support the schools.

The loyalty cards—are they still punch cards in a box behind the counter?
Lee: It just went digital, which was against [what we wanted]. I liked them to have it in their hand. They have the choice now. Some people didn't like carrying the card around.

Lona: They were afraid they'd lose it.

Lee: We're hands-on people. We wanted to say, "Look, this is how many punches you have."

Lona: But the box is still there.

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