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March 25, 2010

Is It Too Soon to Be Nostalgic for Video Stores?

Be-kind-rewind In Montpelier, Capitol Video closed last weekend after 26 years of business.

Meanwhile, mammoth Blockbuster Video, known for crushing many a beloved indie store around the U.S., is also in trouble and warning that it may declare bankruptcy.

Netflix, what hath thou wrought? Check out this Onion news video for a glimpse of our tragically Blockbuster-less future.

OK, I'm kidding. I wouldn't miss Blockbuster. But I would miss Waterfront Video, which I've been patronizing since back when it actually was on the Burlington waterfront.

One thing you can do there that you can't do on Netflix is browse the big shelf of New Arrivals that aren't new releases. Usually they're obscure or old-but-new-to-DVD movies that a customer requested. From art films to '60s drug-trip exploitation flicks to classics that suffered recent Hollywood remakes, they give you a snapshot of what local movie addicts are watching right now.

I also remember a time ... it feels so long ago ... when Waterfront seemed like the big, shiny, well-stocked, thriving alternative to a struggling neighborhood video store that I tried to support whenever I could. That store was the long-gone branch of Showtime Video on North Winooski Ave. in the Old North End. Back in the late '90s,  it was conveniently located right beside the Onion River Co-op.

I don't remember the name of the guy who owned that Showtime, but I do remember he was passionate about movies. He hand-lettered the label on every single cassette or DVD he rented. Any film you picked up, he'd offer his opinion on — at length. It was kind of like entering the record store in High Fidelity.

Two things Video Store Dude was especially adamant about: widescreen format and DVD. As I recall, he refused to stock certain movies shot in Cinemascope, like David Lynch's Blue Velvet, because only a full-screen, pan-and-scan version was available. He would deliver lengthy impromptu lectures on aspect ratio. All this at a time when TV screens were closer to square than rectangle.

And he was an apostle of DVD at a time when DVD players still cost hundreds of dollars, and computers didn't have them as standard equipment. I remember him urging me to watch The Mummy on my brand-spanking-new, DVD-drive-equipped lime iMac with the fervor of a tent preacher. Watching movies in a desk chair wasn't comfortable, but gradually I was converted. It was so much ... sharper!

One day Video Store Dude announced to me that he was no longer acquiring VHS tapes of new releases: He was going to be all DVD, all the time. It seemed like a crazy idea then, especially in Vermont. The ONE Showtime disappeared a few years into the new millennium.

But, of course, Video Store Dude was right. Shiny digital discs were the way of the future. I'm guessing he didn't realize that the format he loved would have a role in putting stores like his out of business, as the discs got cheaper and people realized how easy it is to ship them through the mail and rent them from big red boxes at the supermarket. Soon enough, we won't need the discs at all. (Many already don't.)

Meanwhile, thanks to plasma TVs and other pricey gadgets, the average viewer knows way more about stuff like "aspect ratio" than he or she did 10 years ago. Hell, the networks letterbox sitcoms and cop shows these days to make them look like movies! So, yeah, Showtime guy was on to something.

He also encouraged me to watch great stuff like the British TV series The Singing Detective. Try finding that at Blockbuster.

So, no, it's never too soon to feel nostalgic about video stores. (You want to talk nostalgia? I remember the very first VHS tapes I ever rented, 'round about 1983, from a long-gone electronics store on Church Street. In those days, each tape cost about $70 new, and holding a movie in your hands — no heavy reels! no need for a home projector! — felt like having a superpower.)

I'm not eager to relive the days of "Be Kind, Rewind." But let's appreciate our indie vid stores — like Waterfront and Downstairs Video at the Savoy — while we still can.

Anyone else remember the ONE Showtime?

Is It Too Soon to Be Nostalgic for Video Stores?

Ha! You mean too late, correct?

The last time I rented a movie was I can't remember...

What was the name of that Johnson video rental store? As a small town teen bored out of my brain with NO internet access, that place was like Shangri-La! Wonder if it is still in business?

And what ever happened to that Showtime dude? Hope he is still preaching the movie gospel, where ever he landed.

The Entertainer was the name of the video store in Johnson. They also had tanning beds. The tanning lotion gave the place an interesting odor.

The place had charm. It closed about a year ago.

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