Iconic Bethel video store closes for good

A Korean woman stands in front of a sign for video world
Owner Jenny Suh stands in front of Video World, which was founded in 1986. (Katie Basile/KYUK)

One of the last remaining video stores in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta closed up shop on Jan. 10 after holding on for a remarkably long time. Most video stores in the U.S. closed over a decade ago. In Bethel, the exorbitant cost of high-speed internet kept the business alive.

On Jan. 11, Jenny Suh hauled the last bags of trash out of Video World, which first opened in 1986, and handed in the keys. Her store sits in the Bethel Native Corporation building under a big wooden sign bearing its name. It’s utilitarian, but the peeling paint offers a certain nostalgia for simpler times: When you had to go to a store to borrow a movie, instead of scrolling through endless options on streaming platforms.

The dusty, light blue walls are lined with empty slots that once held racks of DVDs. The carpet is best described as “neutral funky.”

Suh worked here almost every day for the last eight years.

“I worked, like, 12 hours every day, you know. This place has never been painted or changed carpet, because we only close Christmas Day,” she said.

Suh and her husband took over the store from her husband’s uncle. Her husband is from Bethel, raised by Korean immigrants. Jenny spent her early childhood in Seoul, until her family relocated to Hawaii’s Big Island. That’s where she met her husband. She’s the one that brought him back to Bethel.

“I wanted to try something new, and had to convince him,” she said.

Her small business slowed to a halt during the pandemic, Suh said. But even without COVID-19 lockdowns, the video sales industry was on the way out due to the popularity of online streaming services.

“I mean, we only lasted this long because the internet — they charge so much,” she explained.

Melissa Valadez, a friend and customer of Suh’s, said that when the movie theater opened a few years back, business got so bad the store needed the income from selling pull tabs to stay open.

“It kind of just started not doing so well. Rippies still kept it alive, but even that, you know … and then with the pandemic,” said Valadez.

Suh officially stopped renting out videos a few years back, but continued renting to a select group of 30 or so people who requested the service, including Valadez.

“Because she trusted us. She knew we were going to return them,” said Valadez.

Suh said one of the shop’s struggles had been customers who broke or mishandled the videos and tried to get their money back. But she liked most of her customers.

“The regulars that I met, even when they don’t, you know, not for buying anything we went in, they stop by and talk story. And it’s one of the most things I like,” said Suh. 

Valadez and her sons will miss them when the Suhs return to Hawaii. Their families share a Korean culture, not uncommon in Bethel: Korean Americans are a higher portion of Bethel’s population than of any other community in the state, according to U.S. census data from 2010.

“My kids love them. They call Jenny “imo,” which is “aunt” in Korean,” said Valadez

On the other hand, Valadez said that she is happy for Jenny’s upcoming move, explaining simply, “She’s going to Hawaii. It’s warmer.”

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Jenny Suh’s name.

Previous articleAfter a year of dramatic lows, Alaska sees modest climb in oil prices
Next articleAlpine ski team officially rejoins UA Anchorage athletics program