Film is Truth 24 Times a Second, one of Bellingham’s two remaining video rental stores, isn’t in financial trouble. But last year its owners realized that without making a change, it would be eventually.
Longtime employee Dee Dee Chapman worried less about losing her job and more about the possibility of Bellingham residents losing access to the store’s collection of 17,000 films, “100 years of movie history at your fingertips,” she said.
To preserve its collection, the video rental store at 211 W. Holly St., is becoming a nonprofit. Film is Truth incorporated with the state as a nonprofit in January, and the group has applied for and is still waiting on Federal 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.
The change from retail store to nonprofit will ease the organization’s financial worries by making it eligible for grants, allowing it to hold fundraisers, and grant tax write-offs for donations. As a 501(c)3 status organization, Film is Truth won’t pay federal income tax, but will still pay sales tax on goods and retail services, and employment-related tax, according to the Washington State Department of Revenue.
To qualify for tax exempt status with the federal government, potential nonprofits must limit their mission to what the Internal Revenue Service calls “exempt purposes,” which include—relevant to Film is Truth—educational and literary purposes.
According to its new mission statement, Film is Truth aims to be a cultural resource that serves the community by promoting the appreciation of cinema as art, entertainment and education by providing access to an extensive collection of media.
The new nonprofit will achieve this with classes and workshops, in addition to providing movie buffs and anyone who enters the store a chance to discuss movies with the store’s staff and volunteers, said Chapman, who in addition to working at the store is a board member for the new nonprofit.
The organization will make other changes in response to what customers and the community want, said board president Sam Kaas.
“It would be almost a waste of resources for a store like ours to convert to a nonprofit just to continue doing the same thing,” Kaas said. “There’s a world of potential out there.”
As online streaming programs continue to grow, more and more video stores are converting to nonprofit organizations. Stores in Seattle and Richmond, Virginia, have already made the switch.
Chapman said she and the store’s owners, Emily Marston and Karl Freske, first talked about becoming a nonprofit nearly four years ago.
“They saw the way the industry was going. Karl was like,”I don’t want to sit and watch this deteriorate around us,”” Chapman said. “The main thing all three of us cared about was keeping the collection open to the public and this seemed like the best way to achieve that.”
Film is Truth is hoping to get nonprofit status with the federal government this fall. But first, they’re moving to a new location that will fit in with their new mission.
In the new location in the Public Market at 1530 Cornwall Ave., the store will have slightly less space but more parking and access to a conference room. Parking is difficult at the store’s Holly St. location.
“Finding parking can be frustrating,” Co-founder Karl Freske said in a press release about the move. “I’m pleased that we’ll be able to offer a large amount of free parking spaces for our customers and still remain downtown.”
The nonprofit hopes to use a conference room in the Public Market for movie viewings and movie club meetings—some of the first new programs the nonprofit plans to start.
Chapman and Kaas emphasized the nonprofit board’s desire to facilitate interaction between film fans. They want people to talk about movies, rather than just binge watch them alone at home, Chapman said. Also, by keeping people from binge-streaming movies alone, the store will be able to expose film fans to a wider range of movies.
“Netflix is this national thing where you’re watching the same narrow list of movies as someone in Ohio or Alabama,” Chapman said. “We have what someone in Bellingham might want to watch. People can come here and get the movie that showed at the Pickford last month.”
Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.