Video Express owner Ben Pasqua, left, and employee Matt Tucker keep Mercer County’s last video rental store afloat. (Staff photo by Allie Ward.)

By Allie Ward

First it was Choices in Foxmoor Shopping Center. The Blockbuster on Route 33 and South Broad Street’s Hollywood Video eventually followed and closed up shop, to be replaced by the new wave of vending-machine and mail-order movies.

One business, however, billed as Mercer County’s last video rental store, has outlasted the chains and the opposition of Redbox, Netflix and On Demand: Video Express and Game Exchange. It has been thriving at its Yardville Dover Park Plaza location for close to 20 years.

Owner Ben Pasqua, who took over the store in 2000, said Video Express’s main goal is to provide exactly what got him interested in the business in the first place.

“One day, I happened to be up at Video Barn on Clarksville Road and the customer service was excellent,” he said. “So I started driving all the way up to Clarksville Road. I would bypass all five video stores in Trenton and Hamilton because the service was unbelievable. When you came in, you weren’t just another person. It was ‘Hey, Ben.’ They knew you after the first visit.”

Pasqua struck up a friendship with Video Barn’s owner, helping him sell games and filling in when needed at the store and at its other location in Allentown (called Video Express). Quickly realizing his passion for games and interacting with the customers, Pasqua offered to buy Video Express, including its other branch in Dover Plaza.

The Allentown store ultimately closed, leaving Pasqua to focus on the Yardville Video Express which, he said, is keeping up with its modern-day competition like Redbox, the popular and inexpensive vending-machine rental system that offers 24-hour rentals for $1.

“At first, it’s cool. ‘Oh wow, Redbox.’ But you know what, it’s not the same. It’s like if you have a good pizzeria in your area. Sure, the chain pizzas aren’t bad but it’s not like having Papa’s Tomato Pies around the corner,” he said. “One of the advantages we have is a lot of movies—not every movie—but a lot of movies we get four weeks before they hit Redbox and Netflix.”

On many weekend nights, Video Express resembles a living room rather than a business, with a loyal gathering of gamers and movie lovers there to hang out with the employees and sample the latest games on the in-house TV. Pasqua greets them all by name, offering suggestions on what’s good and what’s not, and quickly jotting down movies that customers may want that the store doesn’t have in stock.

He lets late fees slide here and there, coordinates a mail-in service with one out-of-town patron and even volunteers to deliver dinner from the Chinese restaurant next door along with Saturday night movie deliveries, a service that some Video Express shoppers might not know about.

Here, the customer truly is always right.

Hamilton resident Mark Vaccaro, a Video Express customer for more than eight years, said the friendly atmosphere keeps him coming back.

“You can chill out here, play video games or watch movies. They’re always considerate and they always help a customer out,” he said. “With movie rentals, if you get to know them good enough and they trust you, you can do a pay later. I’ll throw a movie up there and say ‘can I pay this later?’ and they put it on my account.”

Vaccaro said Video Express’s movies are in better condition than movies from Redbox or Netflix, another reason he chooses to buy and rent from Pasqua.

“You don’t have to worry about that stupid Redbox where it’s scratched up halfway through the movie,” he said. “If you have that issue here you just come in and get a new one.”

It’s also the variety of services that helps keep Video Express afloat when every other rental store has folded. Along with selling and renting games, movies, Blu-rays, game accessories and controllers, Pasqua and his staff provide free estimates on game console, VCR and other repairs. Video Express also offers video transfers, where old 8 mm footage or slides are transferred to DVDs.

Pasqua acknowledges that his field of business is changing, but remains confident that his store is here to stay.

“People can go get a movie anywhere; it’s customer service that keeps people coming back.”

Video Express and Game Exchange is located in Dover Park Plaza, 3A Sunnybrae Blvd., Yardville. For more information, call (609) 581-2424 or visit facebook.com/videoexpressnj.