Friday, July 20, 2018

The Death Of The Video Store

by FreexRus (writer), Portland, March 06, 2008


With a slew of new technologies at hand, the personable dialog between customer and Video Store Clerk is close to extinction.

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.

About the Writer

FreexRus is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on The Death Of The Video Store

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By nhemerson on March 06, 2008 at 05:08 pm

You know, if video stores could offer unlimited streaming of documentaries like Netflix then maybe they could compete!

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By L DeSilva-Johnson on March 07, 2008 at 02:28 pm

In many cities there are video stores that buck the trends and compete with convenience by offering well curated, personalized collections and service -- some of these only *opening* in the last few years. I know personally of a few that are rabidly defended by their increasingly loyal customer bases -- it's another instance of quality and individuality vs. "ease" and cheap prices via. mass consumption. There are many fabulous things about netflix, but honestly I prefer a healthy relationship with bittorrent/open source culture paired with a friendly, knowledgeable neighborhood video store. At current I frequent videology, but there are many others out there giving good old fashioned interactions sustainable, viable futures. It's not a null game!

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By travelingseth on March 09, 2008 at 08:54 pm

There's a great movie store here in the Mission (Lost Weekend) that has some of the best, most knowledgable slackers ever.  Netflix is calling though.  One of these days I'll finally do it and I'm sure get addicted. 

And the recommendation system keeps getting better.  For a facinating article on the Netflix algorithm check out this article in this month's Wired,

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By Hunter Addams on October 17, 2008 at 06:13 pm

I have netflix, and I love it. Unfortunately, the mom & pop shops do have to compete with them and the chain stores like Hollywood and Blockbuster. I gotta say, the "4 movies, 4 days, 4 bucks" deal at the mom&pop here is probably the best deal around. They still have 2 full racks for my beloved horror flicks (4 times the space than blockbuster has.) Theres one out in Manhattan, also privately owned, Kim's Video. The mecca of video stores.
Netflix definitely has the convenience over them all, and by far the larger selection. Movies that they've never even heard of at the mom&pop are there, and Kim's has a $150 membership deposit. (it's also a 1 hour train ride from my house) Kim's will have the movie, but travel 2 hours round trip to rent a movie? no thank you. To buy it from them, most movies are priced at $20-$40 each. The mom&pop is also limited on space (Kim's is 4 floors), so they do have a smaller selection, but they do their damnedest to keep a wide variety.
In my opinion, the mom&pop and Kim's have one HUGE advantage over Netflix, Blockbuster or any others: They've been open FOREVER. Although their selections are 95% dvd, the horror sections still have those "lost forever" VHS tapes of those god awful movies I loved when I was young, and still enjoy the hell out of today. Movies that will probably never make it to a DVD release. Anyone heard of 555? Lady Terminator? Hard Rock Zombies? Video Violence..? Spookies, anyone?? Not even Escapes?? It's Vincent Price for god's sake!

Anyway.. The mom&pops still have these movies, on VHS, original clamshell cover and all. Can't get that from Netflix. And, I don't know if it's a good ro bad thing, but sometimes the mom&pops run out of space, and they have to sell off a few of these VHS gems, and maybe I get to be the lucky horror fan who walks in on that day to find it for sale, and just so happen to have $1 in my pocket that feels like being spent on it. A friend of mine worked there for a while, he didn't even notice the clamshell VHS of George Romero's Martin sitting on the shelf for $2. It is now in my entertainment centers VHS drawers, sitting proudly amongst it's horror movie brethren. I even had him ring it up for me, grumbling and jealous as he was. What a swell guy he is.

Netflix may be convenient, but nothing beats the mom&pop video store (if youre a horror fan like me, anyway)

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