A VHS visionary

CHARLES RICHARD HOOGLAND Nov. 17, 1930-June 25, 2020

Photo courtesy Keith Hoogland.
Charles Hoogland built a video store empire.
Charles Hoogland was a video store pioneer, but wasn’t known for having a favorite movie.

It probably would have been something old – he liked John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, says Keith Hoogland, Charles’ son. “The Quiet Man,” maybe, and not surprising, given Hoogland’s penchant for doing business the old-fashioned way.

Charles Hoogland, a Springfield High School graduate, was a Yale man who served in the Navy and got married on the Fourth of July. Inspiration struck in 1978, when Hoogland was nearly 50 and running Midstates Appliance and Supply Co., a wholesaler started by his father that he had taken over after graduating from college in 1952. He’d gotten stuck with videotapes – no one wanted to buy a movie for $79.95 or thereabouts – and so he started The Video Movie Club of Springfield at 1022 E. Adams St., charging $25 for an annual membership and $5 to rent a tape for three days.

To the chagrin of movie studios that fought the rise of video rentals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hoogland and his ilk opened video stores throughout the land. The Video Movie Club of Springfield morphed into Family Video, which became one of the biggest players in a dog-eat-dog world of video rentals that blossomed during the 1980s and 1990s.

Family Video, Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video were the big three. Hollywood Video went out of business in 2010; Blockbuster closed its last store in 2014. Family Video hangs on still, with a handful of stores left open and the family business diversifying into such areas as pizza and fitness centers.

Real estate always was core. Uncertain how long the video rental business would be viable, Hoogland from the start avoided tenancy, buying property instead of renting store space. “The smartest thing he did was, we started buying our own real estate, and we paid it off in five years,” says Keith Hoogland.

Forbes magazine two years ago estimated the value of the company’s real estate at $750 million. Family Video also bought rights to movies instead of splitting rental proceeds with studios. It cost a bit more on the front end, but delivered in the end. Family Video once boasted 800 stores, mostly in the Midwest and typically in smaller towns.

Hoogland, his son says, made it a point to arrange financing with local banks when opening stores. “He wanted to be part of the community,” Keith Hoogland says. Employees were supposed to greet customers by name. At one point, Family Video stores were giving away 32,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas. There were food drives. Students with A’s on their report cards got free movie rentals. Family Video didn’t charge rental fees for children’s flicks. Hoogland would scout sites during drives between Springfield and a home in Michigan, where he died years after moving from the capital city.

“We wanted to be as big and as professional as Blockbuster, for example, but still feel like the local mom-and-pop store,” Keith Hoogland says. “It’s really tough to balance that. As we got bigger, that got harder. But that’s what Dad always wanted to be.”

Hoogland, his son says, didn’t falter at renting adult videos in a pre-internet age: Go ahead, he decided, figuring that the First Amendment would prove out, and it did. “We reverse and remand,” an appellate court wrote in 2001, after a St. Clair County jury decided that Family Video had violated obscenity standards by renting Where The Boys Aren’t No. 7 and The Ultimate Pool Party No. 11 to an undercover Belleville cop in 1997. Family Video realized as much as 17 percent of its revenue by renting adult movies, according to testimony from a company official.

“Dad never watched an adult movie in his life,” Keith Hoogland says. “He thought that people should have the right to watch what they wanted.”

The idea of free movies for A’s came from his family – Hoogland paid his children $1 for every A and charged $2 for every C. Glass spires outside stores were inspired by a bar made of glass blocks at the family’s home.

“My dad was a really great marketer,” Keith Hoogland says. “Most people think of marketing as advertising, putting something in a newspaper. What Dad thought of as marketing was deals to drive people in. That was his genius, I think.”

As Hoogland’s fortune grew, he established the Hoogland Family Foundation, a nonprofit that has contributed to such places as Vanderbilt University, Stanford University and the Springfield YMCA. Aside from Family Video, the Hoogland family is perhaps best known for the Hoogland Center for the Arts on Sixth Street. Why did a man who favored John Wayne give money to a place best known for plays and other theatrical productions?

“That’s a damn good question,” his son says. “My dad, as always, made decisions very quickly. Dad really wasn’t an arts guy. He loved the idea. But he didn’t like to go to plays or opera or anything. But he believed in it. He wanted Springfield to have something like that.”

Grace Luttrell Nanavati, a former trustee on the arts center board, recalls Hoogland being circumspect while she showed him around the downtown Masonic temple then under transformation. He was no pushover.

“I remember him saying, ‘This is in direct conflict with the business that I run,’” Nanavati says He had suggestions about the final product. “He’s walking through, he’s analyzing this and questioning that: He had formidable questions,” Nanavati recalls.

There was no telling, but a couple days after the tour, Nanavati says that Hoogland called: The Hoogland family would give enough to get naming rights. “He was going to name the building and then he said ‘But don’t tell anyone yet, because I need to tell Kay (his wife) what I’ve done,’” says Nanavati, who pegs Kathleen Knox Hoogland, who survives her spouse, as more a fan of theater than her husband.

Years later, when his family’s namesake fell on hard times, Hoogland helped again, calling on the well-heeled to contribute money so that the arts center, which had a $27,000 monthly mortgage payment and faced closure in 2011, could survive. He was 75, his son recalls, and never before had picked up a phone to ask for money. Four years later, the mortgage was retired.

To the end, Hoogland believed in his video empire, which has been hard hit by pandemic. “Our company now is real estate,” Keith Hoogland says. “The video business is a minor part of our business at this point – I don’t know how much longer it will last. There’s no movies coming out.”

But Hoogland in his latter days clung. “He’d say, ‘Keith, you’re wrong – I think the video business is going to come back,’” the son says. “He knew it was going down, but he never believed that it really would. Our last video store might be gone the same year that he left us. And that’s OK, when you think about it.”

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