By Ron VandenBoom
As Joe Amato sits quietly at a desk smoking a cigarette and rewinding a video, he recalls the time in 1986 when he was unemployed and needed to find a new career.
He tells how he and his wife, Lyla, had moved to Havre to manage the old Western Warehouse Foods. He goes on to explain how the store had closed and he needed to find some way to make a living.
Two video stores had just recently closed in Havre, recalled Lyla, "and Joe decided that would be a pretty good business to get into."
Thus was planted the seed that grew into Hometown Video, a business that was first located in a section of building behind the Subway restaurant on First Street. Amato ordered 400 new videos to add to the existing stock of about 200 and never looked back.
At least not until Jan. 1, when the Amatos, who by then had built their video rental business into the largest in Havre, decided to retire. They sold what are now two stores to their daughter and son-in-law, Brenda and Paul Dockter of Great Falls.
"You always start from nothing and build it up to something. ... I've done it for years," Amato said, recalling the long hours needed to build his business. "Now I'm going to do the same thing with retirement -- go from nothing to something."
Something will include travel, Lyla said. They just bought a travel trailer in December and are going to start their retirement by visiting their children around the country.
"Joe loves to listen to the ocean," she said, implying that a visit to the coast is also in their plans. "He could sit for hours and watch the waves and just listen."
But listening to the ocean is only part of the plan. Amato said he also plans on finally catching the prize walleye from Holter Lake.
Earning their retirement required many long hours and a lot of hard work, recalls Lyla.
"You have to do it yourself and get it done and don't wait for somebody else to do it for you," she said.
Joe said their worst day was the first day they opened in January 1987 when they only did $19 in sales. He explained how he would spend his time looking out the window and counting the rivets in the sign that went around Gary and Leo's IGA.
"I used to be so bored it was unreal," he said.
The boredom would be short-lived.
Amato found a new location for the store in a closed gas station at 34 First St. They acquired the property and with the help of Dockter had the property remodeled in 30 days. They opened Nov. 1, 1987.
But that's not the end of the story. By September 1990, the Amatos expanded their business again by opening Tip Top Video on South Fifth Avenue. Then in June 1993 they constructed a new video store at the old location at 34 First St.
Today, their stores stock 12,000 movies and include videos from every era and all categories including drama, comedy, westerns, war, and new releases.
"We're always pleased to say, 'Yes, we have it,'" she said, noting that some movie titles have been just too hard to part with. "Some of the titles we have we would never part with. We've had them since we first opened the business."
Hometown also carries video players and the latest in movie media -- the DVD disk.
"We're the first in town to carry them," Joe said, explaining that DVDs are the up-and-coming medium in the movie rental industry because they have higher quality sound, picture quality, and possess more options than video tape.
"People like them," he said.
Hometown Video also carries a large assortment of video games, music CDs, and snacks to go with the movies.
"We are a full-service video store," he said.
The Amatos will take the opportunity to thank all of their loyal friends and customers Saturday, Jan. 8, from 1-5 p.m. at their retirement party.
Balloons, cake, coffee, and door prize drawings will be available for those customers who drop by to say farewell to the Amatos and greet the new owners.