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A Billings entrepreneur who built a regional video rental store empire has sold the business to a large chain based in Dothan, Ala.

In two decades, Becky Reno built Video Library Inc. into a company with 15 retail stores in Montana. Video Library also handled video rentals in about 170 grocery stores from Minnesota to Alaska.

Reno sold the business to Movie Gallery, which has more than 2,000 stores and is one of the largest video retailers in the country, she said.

"They will run it right and they are really good to their people," Reno said. "It's pretty rare when a company that size can have that personal, thoughtful approach and have so much integrity."

Reno is keeping her other businesses, three City Brew coffee shops in Billings and City Vineyard, an upscale wine store on Grand Avenue.

Reno said Movie Gallery approached her last year and wanted to buy her stores as part of a western expansion. She said "thank you, I'm flattered," but walked away. After the first of the year, Reno said, Movie Gallery representatives approached her again to discuss her concerns about selling.

The decision to sell was "unbelievably difficult," Reno said, but she was won over by the company's philosophy.

"They convinced me they will be great to everyone and, even through they are a huge company, they have the same approach of treating people as their greatest asset."

Reno would not disclose the amount of the sale.

Reno said plans already in the works for new Video Library stores will advance under the Movie Gallery name, including stores in the Flathead Valley and in Cody, Wyo., which is slated to open this fall.

According to its Web site, Movie Gallery was founded in 1985 by two men in Dothan, Ala. The chain concentrates on smaller towns and cities by buying out "mom and pop" operators. No one from Movie Gallery could be reached for comment.

Reno sold her video business once before in 1987, but had to buy it back three years later when the Los Angeles buyers went into bankruptcy.

Video Library employed 175 people in 2002. Reno said the sale will affect an estimated 150 video library employees.

"They all have their jobs. Movie Gallery didn't want to lose anyone," Reno said. "They have been wonderfully gracious to all the Video Library people. Some of our store managers can be great district managers."

Reno said customers won't experience many changes, other than maybe some new computer equipment as Movie Gallery brings in its own system.

City Brew is expanding "nice and easy," she said, with another Billings store expected to open on North 27th Street this year and another in Kalispell in September. She also hopes to open City Brews in Bozeman and Missoula next year.

City Brew and Movie Gallery will probably work together in the future, Reno said, which is a benefit for her to be able to stay in the loop with the video retail businesses she developed. The companies could team up on positioning future stores near each other, she said.

"The best thing is, I get to still kind of work with them in that we're doing some things with Movie Gallery and City Brew and we're really looking forward to that," Reno said. "They love our concept. We both are going to win on that one."

Reno said she was emotional Thursday, when Movie Gallery officially had control of the businesses. After 23 years of nurturing Video Library, she will have to adjust to the change and learn to "detach" from the businesses, Reno said.

"I'm a retailer. That's what I love to do," Reno said. "I've been fortunate there were opportunities in Montana to get out there and make the American dream come true."

Jan Falstad can be contacted at (406) 657-1306 or at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com.

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