The Last Video Store

Videoflicks, my neighbourhood video store, is closing. It’s the place my brothers and I would bike down to on Saturday night to pick up several VHS for a night of popcorn and movies when we first moved into the neighbourhood. This is not a mega-video emporium, but a family-run-been-there-as-long as-I can-remember video store; and at the end of the month it will close

For years we had been hearing about the financial woes of Blockbuster and its rivals and the inevitable came last September when Blockbuster announced it was going into bankruptcy protection. We all knew this would happen–the end of this corporation–but the realization that the video store would soon be extinct didn’t come until my local video store announced it was closing this month.

With services like video-on-demand, streaming and Redbox, the end of the video store is not surprising. While ease of use and affordability may be the benefits, the film community as well as actual communities may be losing a significant part of them.

Over the last decade people have prophesied the end of the movie theatre and the video store, while the death of the movie theatre may be far off, the video store is already six feet under.

It is a sad thought, no longer being able to walk or bike to a video store to rent a film, as it seems to be such a natural thing. It could be argued that it is just nostalgia talking, but I honestly believe the video store holds many benefits that the new alternatives do not.

Wandering down the aisles, finding films I had never heard of; seeing films that looked terrifying or cool and finally working up the courage to get them, these are all things impossible with the new technologies.

It is true that a larger selection can be found on streaming, yet it seems far less likely that people will want to explore the selection like they do in a video store. For the most part, other than film fans, people will not seek out these lesser-known titles, they will look for whatever name they recognize on the service they have decided to use. In a video store, with the DVD covers lining the walls, people will find things they may not have heard of and decide to rent it due to the box art or description on the back. It is exactly how I found many of my favourite films as a kid.

While the video store seemed to be a lost cause for quite some time, its demise never seemed imminent. With the financial down turn in North America and the rise in these alternative renting services, an almost perfect storm occurred. People began to seek more escapist entertainment for minimal amounts of money, and the introduction of services like Redbox and Netflix Watch Instantly fed this need. It accelerated the process and cemented the fate of the local video store.

Since I was a kid the local video store has always been the store I frequented the most. It helped me through a summer in a new neighbourhood without friends, and has been the reason for my discovery of some of my favourite films. My sadness for the disappearance of video stores is not simply fed by nostalgia and fear of what is new, but rather because the video store was a great tool for finding films. The new video rental services may have their benefits, but I truly mourn the death of the video store.

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33 Responses to The Last Video Store

  1. MikeyMo says:

    Recognizable. My old videostore where I used to wander donw the isles when I was 12-16 closed down several years ago. The other ones I came a lot, part of a franchise, are still in function but also serve as a postal point for DHL and a post order company. They also refill inkt cartridges and sell movie-night food like Ben & Jerry’s.

    My guess it’s just a matter of time before they close and indeed the isle-walking checking out VHS covers is something that will be a thing of the past. Too bad though because that way you would stumble upon lots of intriguing covers.

  2. Mariah says:

    In comparison to most cities, the city I live in has a local and independent video store called Movie Madness. It’s located in Portland, OR and it gets a lot of business. The reason it’s so popular is that along with new and popular cinema they carry a wide selection of obscure and rare films. Another reason is that the owner likes to collect movie memorabilia and puts it on display for the public. So while I deplore the loss of almost any small independent business in communities around the world, I’m glad to say that mine doesn’t suffer from this specific ailment. Personally I dislike chain stores and the lack of local independent business, so please accept my condolences on your community’s loss.

    • Geoff says:

      Movie Madness! I live a few blocks from there. It’s fantastic. Nothing more perfect than popping down there on a cool summer evening. Viva la Madness!

  3. Jamie Alley says:

    I manage the last video store left on Martha’s Vineyard (Hollywood Video pulled out last year), an independent store in business since 1986. Being on an island we do have somewhat of a captive audience mixed with vacationing celebrities and a lot of family business. We carry over 24,000 titles for rent and we help sponsor two yearly film festivals. I guess I’m a little old-fashioned in that I wouldn’t watch a film on a computer, and I believe that people like to paw through boxes and make choices, one title leading to another and so forth. We have films you probably won’t find anywhere else and our visiting movie celebrities find our store a great research resource . Gabriel Byrne said our store was the best he’d ever been in through all of his travels. There is a social element in video stores that no online resource can ever replace. I feel movies should be a shared experience that an audience shares together; I don’t know what the future will bring, but I hope the shared experience stays with us.

  4. fairportfan says:

    Well, when all the video stores are gone and everyone tries to watch movies online by streaming video, they’ll realise what they let get away – the bandwidth just isn’t there for streaming video to replace video stores.

    And since net neutrality will probably not pass the newly-elected Congress (their owners from Big Business don’t want it), meaning that true competition in the internet business won’t happen anytime soon, we’re not going to get broadband speeds or availability anywhere near what the rest of the world pays less to get than we pay for the pitiful trickles they see fit to dole out to us.

  5. Mil Sepic says:

    Much like the used bookstores that are disappearing where you can browse with no interruptions, talk to other readers and find, like many mentioned above, the rare film or show you never heard of. Video stores embrace the idea of community much like the bookstores, or coffee shops. The more you get shoved into the big box stores the less you feel like a person. There you are someone to be “branded” and monetized. May all those go to Dante’s holiday camp. At least here in Toronto there’s places that will hold out as long as I’m around even if they’re not exactly in my neighbourhood, they’re close by.

  6. Seankgallagher says:

    I’m a manager at one of those all-too-rare-these-days independent video stores (World of Video on Greenwich Ave. in Manhattan), and I agree with everyone else who commented here about the value of these stores. I’d also add that with the way the studios are delaying their releases to Netflix, we are still a good alternative.

  7. Alex says:

    Moviestop will fill the void! Yes, it’s corporate. But with no competition and a penchant for stocking /anything/, as they continue to expand I think it will impress many people who miss the dedicated video store.

  8. DesertEagle says:

    I’d like to take the contrary view here. I live in a medium-sized town without a decent video store, indy book store, etc. The only way I could rent movies outside the mainstream is thru Netflix.
    All of the Blockbusters in my town have closed, and good riddance to them. Anytime they did carry a title I wanted, it would already be checked out. The clerks at Blockbuster were also. . . how should I say this?. . . a little bit dumb. One girl working there had never heard of Charlie Chaplin! (It’s one thing to have never seen his movies, but you never HEARD of him?)
    For those of us outside major metro areas, companies like Netflix have provided an invaluable service, reasonably priced and reliable. Netflix leveled the playing field for movie lovers the same way Amazon leveled it for book lovers.

  9. Tim Blevins says:

    I certainly do miss that Friday night phenomenon of having one hand on the intended rental while the other leads off in some scattered line of thought that stretched into 45 minutes of unearthing lost titles. And, although OnDemand does have an aspect of “in the moment” decision making to it, nothing can ever quite match up unearthing that dust-covered specimen of box art that somehow decided to draw your line of sight down from it’s expected destination. Many loving memories of Cambridge Mass’s now defunct Hollywood Express in Central Square.

  10. Albert says:

    For me, watching a film online is a lot of fun, but it can never compare to watching it on an HDTV set or even on a DVD player. The sound and picture are never quite as good online, and I have never understood people who are willing to settle for inferior quality just because they can get it free. I watch You Tube videos as much as anyone else, because it’s awfully convenient to sit here at my PC and get to watch an entire film. And online your DVD’s never get scratched or dirty. But I would never give up my DVD collection for online films either. I hope at least some DVD stores stay open.

  11. simon says:

    i live in england and we still have 3 video stores left near us but all are blockbusters and its been that way for a while.
    i dont even go in them anymore as i use the online mail rental store-lovefilm
    the blockbusters all stock the same things,new releases from major studios
    theres almost nothing in the way of indie or world cinema unless its a major release
    i remember growing up in the early 80s and going into my local store and seeing all the different weird and wonderful films to rent.i still have a large vhs collection as most of these havent been re-released.
    i do miss browsing in the stores but i suppose it had to happen

  12. KeenHippie says:

    But I love movies (especially the films of Charlie Chaplin, DesertEagle) and being a manager at Blockbuster is the little thing I do to try to satisfy that hunger. I love sharing movies with people. I have a vast knowledge of movies, actors, et al, and this is my last option for helping people with vague questions find the movie they’re looking for. It’s hard to get a job at the last two independent rental stores, or else I’d work there. It just doesn’t help that no matter how many movies Blockbuster or the other rental stores can carry I’m addicted to finding the good movies that are out there, the good movies that only be found on Netflix. It makes me sad to say that, or to say that the Blockbuster By-Mail program doesn’t even have them.
    Ironic though it may be, I don’t like big business, but Blockbuster is the lesser of three evils. RedBox is the worst because it barely employs anyone and it’s taking business away from the places that actually need the business. Netflix next because at least they have a good selection, but they still take money away from people in your community. Blockbuster employs people from your area, provides you with the option to look at the cover etc, and heck it gives me a way to share my passion for film, seriously though Modern Times is one of my favorite films of all time I can’t wait for it to come out on Criterion.
    We all can’t be so lucky to have a Movie Madness, World of Video, or that mecca I’d love to visit at Martha’s Vineyard. Perhaps if enough people commiserate we’ll fight the good fight, win the race and have places to use our instant gratification for films support local businesses.

  13. Sara says:

    I had a Netflix account, but canceled it when money got tight. My internet service is crap, so I can’t download movies on my computer and I don’t use the Redbox. However, I still rent movies and series. How, you may ask, well the answer is right in front of you. Libraries have videos and DVD’s and if they don’t have it, you can order something via Interlibrary Loan. Of course, I am a librarian so I am biased. But, I found ILL a suitable alternative to the disapppearing video store. Of course, you don’t get the browsing through aisles and aisles of covers (Just one aisle if you’re lucky.) But I still get to borrow movies and series without paying any sort of nominal fee.

    • The library is a very under used resource for getting film, especially Criterion DVDs! I really recommend people to go check out their local library next time they can’t find a film.

      • Kate says:

        Libraries are a great free source for movies, but sadly most public libraries cannot afford to buy the disc cleaning machines that are needed to keep rental DVDs in good shape. Usually they’re so scratched they’re totally unwatchable.

      • TigerBoy says:

        This morning I saw that our local library carries a DVD of ‘Caligula’. Ookeeey…

        Also, I wanted to add my favorite Blockbuster story to the other ones above . Going through their meagre Asian section one day at my now defunct local BB I was surprised to see the Inuit movie ‘The Fast Runner’ shelved there. I took it out & saw the Asian features of the cast members on the cover. It all suddenly made sense after that.

  14. J says:

    The fondest memory I have of the VHS era, is renting a handful of movies for the weekend and then after watching the first movie, I would sit right next to the VCR, listening to the tape rewind (be kind, please rewind). The tape seemed to take forever, but maybe that was just the anticipation of the next film.

  15. Petra says:

    Really? You’re only losing it this month? We lost our last independent ones years ago. Then Blockbusters, Family Video and one Hollywood Video were all that was left. Hollywood Video disappeared overnight and without much notice. Only one Family Video and one Blockbuster left now. I hate to patronize either but if the library doesn’t carry something I need, I’m kinda stuck. I choose Family Video over Blockbuster out of principal. It may be a chain but Blockbuster (a.) had some of the least helpful employess ever and (b.) didn’t carry full series. They had Species II and III but not the original. They had Before Sunset but not Before Sunrise.

  16. Funny, I actually worked at Videoflicks in Thornhill back in the late 80’s. It was a HUGE store and better yet, open 24 hours. I worked the midnight shift and it was a glorious time indeed. Sell through video was a relatively new concept and we had thousands of tapes available for sale. Great time to be a videophile and I whiled away many a (not so) lonely hour watching movies on the in store TV.

    If this is the Videoflicks on Avenue Road in Toronto, then that is a major blow to the Video store as that was an awesome store too.

    Jumbo Video, Videoflicks, Trendz N’ Video, Movies 4 U. My curriculum vitae has more than a few video stores in it. Proud to say though, I’ve never worked for Blockbuster.

    For the record, now I own my own movie poster website where I have over 150,000 posters for all the mainstream and hidden jewel titles you may have discovered in your local video store way back when.

    Derek M

  17. Erik Swallow says:

    I work at a little local independent video rental store called the Naro Expanded Video, here in Norfolk, VA, and we’re doing fine, despite the renting alternatives. We have many loyal customers who support us and who enjoy what we offer that the other options don’t: a breadth of movie knowledge and the ability to help customers find just the right movie for their mood.

  18. VideoMafia says:

    Most people would assume that New York City would have an endless supply of video stores and small “mom and pop” tyupe neighborhood outlets . Sadly no, we have a few Blockbuster’s and thankfully a few indie-diehards. One of the greats was the video dept at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square, (we had a great buyer who would listen to customer /staff requests!) the staff were mostly movie buffs and future directors/writers who loved what they did and loved sharing their favorites . Then there’s Kim’s Video on St. Mark’s Place in the Village which has moved futher East I guess to avoid the high rents and the World of Video guys who are great! The social intercourse is what I most miss -meeting other film lovers and getting tips on films I might have not seen otherwise. I have Netflix, the Library and Amazon as sources but its not the same. Its hard to find decent asian/kung-fu films in the city anymore let alone a good foreign film store like Khan’s Video ! The feel of holding the product and reading the back and sometimes being suckered by great cover art is all part of the magic and I miss it.

  19. Videoport in Portland, Maine is still alive, and fighting hard to stay alive. Great selection, knowledgeable staff, loyal customers…we defy the odds. Support your local video store.

  20. Abby says:

    I’ve never been much of a renter- a throwback to the LaserDisc days when sell-through was cheaper on disc than tape and few places rented LDs. I do like to browse the stores though, and I’m a sucker for cheap ex-rentals they sell off.

    I’ve amassed a huge number of DVDs (and some tapes too) in the last couple of years as stores close. I think we’re down to two Family Videos, a Blockbuster, and one (or two?) local shop left renting videos. It’s not a joke anymore when I drop in one of them and ask if they’re closing up shop soon.

    My Internet connection isn’t super fast, and my screen is superbig, so I haven’t even considered streaming. Premium channels are my non-disc medium, and I watch a lot more series than movies on them because it’s mostly recent movies or stuff I’ve seen (or didn’t want to see the first time).

  21. Seth says:

    My childhood video store also recently closed. I haven’t lived in town for over 5 years, but I was still sad to see it go. I can remember biking or walking to the store almost every week when I was a kid. They always had a very friendly staff and several employees had worked there for a very long time. I remember trying to rent every VHS in one section of the store as if it was some sort of mark of honor. They had so many unwatchable movies that I rented merely because they looked so awful. I now have Netflix and I absolutely love it, but I still miss going to the video store with friends to pick out a movie on a random Friday night.

  22. E.S. says:

    I’m going to really miss the experience of going down to a local videostore and picking out a movie. If movie theatres ever become obsolete, in favor of things like internet streaming or T.V., I will leave with them. The transition from film to digital is bad enough.

  23. Carl says:

    Ah the local store. Sadly to my knowledge there are non left in Zanesville Ohio just a couple Family Videos and a Blockbuster box somewhere. I think one local video store survives in New Lexington though.

  24. Lesley says:

    I worked for 8 years at my local video store, starting in 1999, and it was the best job I’ve ever had. The work was easy, the customers were more like friends and the perks of being the first to see movies was really appealing. I met and made friends working there, and we had great fun. Saturday Nights watching Dirty Dancing and eating candy while trying to persuade fussy customers into renting foreign films they found out they loved, discovering movies I never would have otherwise (Good Bye Lenin, seriously. When it comes to German coming-of-age films with the Cold War and one boys love for his mother as a backdrop… so good.)

    When I started in 1999, at 17 years old, it was a busy place. We had a huge store and thousands of titles, Beta, VHS AND DVD. American, Canadian and foreign made films.
    But, as business slowed, we moved to a smaller store and started getting only the popular titles.

    When I left, it was because they started cutting our hours.
    It closed two years later.

    I genuinely miss that place. The storefront is still empty, and the yellow sign is still up on the side of the building, with a big X taped over it. Like they couldn’t even bother to take it down…

  25. Tasha says:

    I actually still have a quaint little movie rental place that I absolutely love. They have everything from silent movies from the 20s, to old british tv series, to new releases. They have pretty much every movie imaginable, and as a fan of old, hard to find movies, it is a fear of mine that they will be closing down in the near future.

  26. Chris says:

    It’ s not quite dead yet. A local chain around here has lowered their new rentals to $1 compared to $1.50 at the Redbox. That and the fact that Redbox holds off on new DVD’s 28 days, kinda helps the stores a bit.

  27. Debra says:

    I am starting a video rental business in a small college town. Our Movie Gallery went out of business and there is only one red box that is always broken. Move Gallery was not small town oriented and that is what I will focus on. There are so many ways to make a video store a fun and affordable place to purchase movies, games ect. I am taking a gamble on this investment but I think the area still has legs. We should be open by mid January 2011.

  28. Rudy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I work at a surviving local video store and truly share your feelings. We are losing a part of our culture. It is sad, but it’s nice to know that people are atleast recognizing this.

  29. Rudy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I work at a surviving local video store and truly share your feelings. We are losing a part of our culture. It is sad, but it’s nice to know that people are at least recognizing this.

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