NORTH FORK – After more than 26 years in business on North Fork’s main street, Sierra Video will be closing its doors at the end of the month.
What has been a mainstay in the community for decades will be sorely missed, not only because folks won’t be able to pick up a movie on their way up the mountain, but because the owner has been a fixture in downtown North Fork for nearly 35 years.Bill Elliot opened the video store on Nov. 16, 1986 when Beta was still the big thing in the fledgling video market. But now, in the era of YouTube and dishNet, health issues and the realities of the digital age have forced him to make a tough choice.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” says Bill, referring to conversations with his family, who have been with him since the beginning on this venture. “With my health and the financial realities, it’s just time.”
Bill has lived in North Fork nearly all his life, landing here in 1963. He attended Sierra High in Auberry, and worked at the lumber mill in town for six years.
For those who weren’t around back then, North Fork used to be the big town in the area, and actually had a Sears Catalogue store.
“We bought the Sears Catalogue store in 1978 from Cal Barnett’s brother,” says Bill. “We moved it into the place where ‘Touched By An Angel’ massage is now.”
In February of 1983, Bill sold the Sears store, and began contemplating his next move. With no satellite or cable TV, most people in the area only got about two channels. So in 1986, he decided to run with the idea of Sierra Video.
“There had been a Video Station in town, but they had closed a year or two earlier,” he says. “There was really no entertainment in North Fork at the time, and I thought this would be a great hobby, since my family and I love movies. So I started this business from scratch.”
Bill’s daughters Lisa, Jennifer and Robin, along with cousin Rachel and wife Genni, have all worked at one time or another in the store. It has truly been a family affair.
Their first location was in the OchelTree Center. Then in 1989, the Betty’s department store, which was located in the building where Sierra Video is now, closed its doors. So the Elliots moved the business into that storefront, where it has been for the past 24 years.
Bill was running the video store while he worked at the mill, but in 1991, things began to change. The activity at mill was winding down in advance of its closing in 1993, and he was laid off.
Then Primestar came to town. That, along with cable and pay-per-view, began to take a toll on video rentals.
“Since 1991, it’s been kind of a downhill slide, a gradual loss of business,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of businesses open and then close in this town. I think that other than the father-to-son businesses, Vince and Kenny Goodwin at the lumber yard, and the McKees at the hardware store, I’m probably the longest lasting business in town with the same owner. It’s sad to have to close.”
Most everyone in town knows Bill, and has stopped in for a movie and the requisite bag of popcorn. In the winter, one rented a stack of movies in case they got snowed in, and in the summer, it was the only place in town to get a Slush Puppy.
Those planning last minute parties could pick up some Mylar balloons or rent a helium tank, and Bill was always willing to let aspiring musicians sell their CDs at his counter. There were also farm fresh eggs from local chickens. Go figure – at the video store!
One of the perks of living in a small town is that the proprietor also knows what types of movies you prefer, and lets you know about new arrivals that might spark your interest and make for the perfect movie night.
As new releases came in, the local kids would see the posters go up in the window, and run in to write their names on the back. Then when the posters came down, Bill would let the kids who had staked their claim take them home to tape up on the walls in their rooms.
Sierra Video has also helped support many Loggers Jamboree Queen and Powwow contestants, and the Tiny Tot Dance Contest at North Fork Indian Fair Days. Bill has also made countless donations and contributions to many local non-profit organizations during his years in business.
It feels like the end of an era. Sierra Video has been a part of the fabric of this town for a long time, and the loss of a main street business is quite a blow.
With the impending closing of the store, one reality looms. Everything must be moved out of the building by the end of the month, from the popcorn machine to the Slush Puppy machine, along with over 7,000 VHS tapes and about 4,000 DVDs.
Bill is inviting everyone to stop in and help him liquidate the inventory. It’s a chance to pick up a stack of your favorite movies starting at just $1.
Those who haven’t explored the shelves lately will find a treasure trove of movies from old westerns, mysteries and musicals, to the classics and the newest releases. And everything must go.
“I’ve really enjoyed my years in business here,” says Bill. “The North Fork community has been very supportive over the years. This is a great town, and I’m sorry to have to close. But it’s time.”
Stop in and say hello to a merchant who has served the town for some 35 years, load up on you favorite movies, and say goodbye to Sierra Video. It’s been a good run.