On the Death of a Video Store



I came home last night with a time capsule in a plastic briefcase. It was full of DVDs bought at the “going out of business” sale at Get Reel Video in Park Slope.

We knew it was going to happen. Video stores were going the way of the Kinetoscope and the listening booth, and streaming has already made rental stores doubly obsolete, since Netflix made DVD delivery so much better ten years ago. Still, I felt like a hyena for showing up with seventy bucks in my pocket, and dropping sixty of them on ten DVDs.

If millions of people in tech-savvy Japan still have a soft spot for the fax machine, you can forgive me for patronizing video stores till the very end. My nostalgia for vinyl LPs is something I share with lots of people, but who will ever cry for the DVD? No one, perhaps. The stores were invariably dank places that reeked of guilt: Here are all the movies you’d watch if you were a true cinephile. The staff were watching Italian horror or snickering at your purchase.

I’d still rather walk to the store and make an impulse decision than poke around for a movie on Netflix or iTunes. The point, I suppose, is the walk. The same kind of 20th Century person who can’t bear the omnipresence of video monitors – in taxis, in airports, in the waiting in line at the bank – because he can’t not watch a screen that’s on in the room, is the sort of person who can’t switch his attention on and off. The video store provided the ritual for watching cinema, especially the classics. You got some air and made a mental commitment to Ozu or Bergman, and agreed to pay a late fee if you didn’t get it back on time, an indulgence I admit I often had to pay.

The people at Get Reel are wisely trying to charge $20 per DVD for each Criterion Collection title, but we’ll see if that lasts till the very end. Seeing how many of the great titles Criterion had added showed what the video store had become, a specialty shop. It was like an Italian meat store that’s slow all week but gangbusters on Saturdays: not the place where you buy Tuesday supper, but the place where you shop when you’re cooking for an occasion. So it was us lunatics who needed to see Bed and Board for the fifth time that kept the doors open this long.

I’ve already gotten used to streaming, but the browsing on Netflix and iTunes, which you would think the “information age” is better at, will never be as good as the store.

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