The year 2000. Fresh out of high school with only the marginal Texas education provided and my after school job at a 5&10 store left me woefully under qualified for most employment positions. A few years of job hopping here in Portland, OR led me to the greatest opportunity I had ever, and probably will ever have. American Family Video, a Mom and Pop rental store on the corner of SE 20th and Burnside welcomed me to the most misunderstood and marginalized members of our society.
We were the video store clerks.
The job was simple. Come to work; put movie returns back on the shelves. Smoke break. Run a register; straighten the shelves. Smoke break. But there was another, more vital part of the job. Every customer came to our store because we were the experts. Different clerks had different areas of expertise, be it Art House flicks or Embarrassed to Admit You Laughed at It comedies. No customer went home unsure, or uninformed. We were like prophets in an unsure age, eking out minimum wage where the only benefits were peoples trust in your opinion. We knew it couldn’t last.
Netflix came first. People loved how easy it was. Just pick up the mail and you’ve got a movie. Then Netflix started making “recommendations” by compiling movies you liked and cross referencing those movies with “similar” movies that you’d most likely enjoy as well.
If you liked it, well they have a five star rating system. But how do you rate a movie? Three Stars for acting? Two stars for production value? People didn’t mind. Thanks to Netflix half of our customers stopped coming in. The golden age of the local video store was coming to an end.
Not long after, I left that job and the business closed (not related, I’m sure). All of a sudden, you could rent a DVD at McDonald’s in the driver through for just a dollar! It was a small selection of “New Release Classics” completely devoid of irony. Consumers now had everything they have ever asked for. Easier, Simpler, Faster, and with a side of fries.
There is only one haven left for those people who feel that getting an opinion from people is important. Movie Madness on SE Belmont is the last refuge of the slacker movie clerk who can accurately name all the movies starring both John Cusack and Jeremy Piven. Every once in a while, I’ll walk down the street to this Mecca for cinephiles to support what seems like a bygone era. It’s not much, but it feels like home.