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A year couldn't save Crystal Video.

It's been that long since the Hip Strip store announced it was going to close, only to be saved by angel investors who kept the doors open.

But now, bleeding money and losing business with every Netflix subscription and pay-per-view order, Crystal Video is definitely closing for good, ending its 23-year history in Missoula.

"We're really sorry to see it go, but there's really nothing I can do," said owner Jace Laasko.

The rental store opened in 1987 as a side business to support the Crystal Theatre before Laasko bought it and established it as a separate business in 1997, moving it across the street where The Bridge Pizza now sits. In 2003, it moved to its current location down the block.

Crystal Video changed owners twice before Laasko took it over again last month in a last-ditch effort to save it.

On Friday at 1 p.m., the Crystal's more than 13,000 DVDs and cassettes go on sale to the public, as does the rest of the store's inventory - from shelves to soda machines to furniture to neon signs to the Crystal's DVD polisher and other fixtures.

Up until last month, the store was owned by Tim Huffman, who bought it in 2003. It was Huffman who labored to keep it open, and Huffman who found an angel investor who saved the store in February 2009.

But the store continued to lose money, and Laasko took it over in April. He made a deal with his debtors, and will put the entire inventory on sale starting Friday to try to cover the store's $28,000 in debts.

The dynamics of the store's financial health haven't been hard to determine.

"The economy has been pretty bad, and there's so much more competition now," said Laasko. "It was just going downhill."

From the start, the Crystal - formerly run out of the front of the Crystal Theatre - filled a niche that traditional video stores didn't.

"The philosophy was that we weren't going to be a store that bought 40 to 50 copies of the top movies," he said. "Our philosophy was to offer movies that nobody else would - movies that would take you to another place, another culture."

On Monday, Laasko's voice was filled with a lilt of resignation, but also gratitude.

"We appreciate all the great support people have given us over the years," he said.

Reach Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at


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