Are You Ready to Lose Your Neighborhood Video Store?

What’s your own favorite “neighborhood video store” experience?

Have you ever discovered a movie while browsing the aisles, something you woudn’t have discovered otherwise?

Have you ever struck up a conversation about movies with a neighbor, or with a store employee stocking shelves, while looking for a Friday night rental?

Today’s announcement was inevitable, of course. But, like Jeffrey Wells, it saddens me. It deepens the sadness I’ve been feeling as several of my favorite local music stores close their doors and disappear.

I love the experience of strolling through the neighborhood to a video store for an hour or two of browsing. Especially if that video store is Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, which is as big as the British Museum, featuring movies that haven’t even been made yet, and movies that were made before the invention of photography.

The most enjoyable job I ever worked was in a video store. I loved setting up big displays like “The Films of Robert Downey Jr.” I loved rearranging my “Staff Picks” shelf, which actually became the only shelf that many of my customers bothered to check. Folks would come in and say, “What am I watching tonight, Jeff?” and I’d hand them One False Move, or The Crying Game, or Legend, or Close to Eden, or The Double Life of Veronique, or Midnight Run. Or, for fun, I’d point out the rare package for Disney’s The Little Mermaid… the one in which a disgruntled animator had won his revenge against Disney by sneaking something inappropriate into the cover art. It was a great place for getting to know people through lively discussions of the films they loved and hated.

It was in that context that I had the time to get to know customers and co-workers who knew a lot more about movies than I did. I might not be reading Doug Cummings‘ commentaries on world cinema, or watching the Dardennes Brothers, or checking out the latest Criterion Collection restorations, or investigating what’s happening in the Romanian New Wave like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, if it weren’t for the buried treasure I discovered at Rain City Video, and the recommendations offered in reverent, secretive whispers by those who explored those neglected shelves in the sections marked Foreign, Cult Classics, and Documentary.

Somehow, opening up iTunes and downloading Iron Man just won’t be nearly so much fun.

Perhaps you’re reading this thinking, “Sheesh, Overstreet’s really losing it. Turning into a crotchety old geezer. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a download service.” And you may be right. But right now, as Hillarobamarama continues to throw fuel on the fires of rage and prejudice and division — all in the name of “hope” and “change” — I think neighborhoods need places where we can casually chat about stories, and pictures, and experiences, instead of react in shock at What Outrageous Thing Reverend Wright Said Today, or How Hillary’s Laughing Off the Fact That She Was Caught in Another Big Fat Lie. The more we turn to the internet for everything, the more we’ll stay in our homes, download our distractions in isolation, argue about them online with people who we only know by their screen names, and never find occasion to chat with our neighbors. The neighborhood video store is just one of those places where people connect over mutual enthusiasms, and if we lose it, what will replace it?

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  • If by “neighborhood” we mean mom-and-pop stores, sadly, my experience has ranged from mediocre to horrible. The best were understocked, overpriced, and basically just a shack for housing some guy’s collection of every action flick ever made. The worst were glorified porn huts with surly staff and dirty floors.

    Oh, wait, that’s also been my experience with chain video stores.

    I’ve heard of these meccas for film lovers, but sadly I’ve never found shangrila. To mix references.

    And, Jeffrey? I didn’t need this to think you were a crotchety old geezer. :-)

  • epaddon

    I gre disenchanted with the video store experience years ago when I found that the local Blockbuster tended to stock only recent or current fate. The old mom-and-pop independent operations were always the place to seek out because they would have a gaggle of VHS movies that dated from the early years of the format and which were often never reissued in the 90s (and many still not reissued on DVD). We had one locally called “Video Video” and when word of its closing went up there was a crowd of dozens camped outside waiting for the first day when you could just buy the tapes in the store, and for me I ended up getting a bargain with such still unreleased on DVD stuff like “Raid On Entebbe” (the acclaimed 1977 TV movie) or “Trenchcoat” (1980) and “No Highway In The Sky” (1951) and a lot more. The Blockbusters of the world had already crowded those kinds of stores out and in the process stripped the consumer of the ability to make broader rental choices. And nowadays with most movies on DVD not costing more than two or three times that of a rental cost, I prefer to just buy anyway from either the local Best Buy or from Amazon.

  • petertchattaway

    Hasn’t the video store been in decline for some time, though, due to Netflix and Amazon etc.? People have been staying home to order their movies for a while, now; the move to digital downloads is just an extension of that.

    Personally, I don’t think Apple’s announcement is all that big a deal yet. If I’m not mistaken, the typical movie download will cost between $10 and $15, and will be only 1 gigabyte big. That’s a lot less bang for the buck, compared to a $20 DVD with 8 gigabytes or a $25 Blu-Ray with anywhere up to 50 gigabytes — and that’s before we take the bonus features into account, which I believe the Apple downloads will not have.

    What I do see happening is more DVDs and Blu-Rays coming with “digital copies” of their films that you can copy to your computer; I have never availed myself of this service, but I believe the trend has already begun with the discs for Juno, Live Free or Die Hard and the “extreme edition” of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. If you can get the same “digital copy” that Apple would have given you, but for a few extra bucks you get a high-def copy and a bunch of bonus features, why settle for Apple?