By Mary Erickson
As the film and TV industry continue to tectonically shift, driven in part by Netflix and other streaming services increasing their foothold among preferred viewer platforms, there remain some vestiges of the “good ole days.” The neighborhood video store, once the queen of Friday night entertainment, has for the most part faded away. But, as has been documented in various local news featurettes, there are still video store holdouts that provide a neighborhood with a unique and special video viewing experience.
In the impersonal world of streaming, wherein viewing recommendations are generated with the cold calculation of algorithms, some film aficionados continue to value the personal touch. Video store clerks carry a wealth of knowledge about movies both classic and contemporary, and they are eager to share that with their customers.
Four years ago, I wrote on this blog about some of the dying stars of local video rental stores, as well as the still bustling ones like Seattle’s Scarecrow Video. Today, The Seattle Times profiled Scarecrow again, along with its Seattle compatriots, Reckless Video and Video Isle. Other video stores have been profiled in recent months, an interest spurred by news that two of the remaining three Blockbuster Video stores were closing. The sole remaining Blockbuster is nestled in the high desert east of the Cascade Mountains, in Bend, Oregon, and became a media darling for clinging to the video rental business model. It seems ironic that we may be nostalgic for Blockbuster, a corporate chain responsible for the death of hundreds and hundreds of locally-owned stores.
As reported in The Seattle Times, 2,825 independent video stores remain in the U.S. as of 2017, and these struggle to gather enough customers to stay in business. My local video store just down the hill, Crazy Mike’s Video in Bellingham, WA, closed in January 2018 (Film is Truth 24 Times a Second is still holding on in this town), and numerous other local stores have shuttered over the past few years, to the point that it is an anomaly to get physical videos that don’t come from either Redbox or the public library.
Some stores do still thrive, as evidenced by various establishments throughout the region. Portland is home to four video stores (such as Movie Madness), Vancouver, BC has a handful (including Black Dog), Tacoma hosts Backstage Video, and there are others scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest.
As we shift to the cool days of fall, and we look for movies to watch as we snuggle down in rainy weather, we can remember and celebrate a way of life that defined, for many of us, our exposure to cinema. October 20 is the perfect day to do this: this date is designated as International Independent Video Store Day. If you can, find your local video store, ask the clerk for a recommendation, and bring home a movie for old times’ sake.
Mary Erickson is founder and director of the Pacific Northwest Media Research Consortium. She currently teaches media studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.