As Netflix and on-demand change the way we rent movies, the corner
video store is fading out. It's a greater loss than you might think.
By John Swansburg
IN AN ESSAY recently published in The New York Times Book Review, John
Updike noted that, 'mirabile dictu', the small New England city where
he lives still holds an independent bookstore -- "one of the few
surviving in the long coastal stretch between Marblehead and
I happen to know that bookstore; I grew up just a few miles down the
road from it, in Beverly, and bought books there as a kid. Yet when I
read Updike's encomium for such 'lonely forts', I couldn't help but
think of a different outpost, one that never enjoyed such praise from
on high, and one that, unlike the bookshop, closed its doors not long
ago: Photographics, the video store where I rented movies growing up.
The demise of the independent bookstore has been augured for nearly a
generation now, the inevitable casualty of behemoths like Borders and
Barnes & Noble, online booksellers like Amazon, and ultimately, so
we're told, of the universal, digital library imagined by Google and
various techno-visionaries. The more imminent demise of the video
store, meanwhile, has merited only occasional notice, mostly in the
business pages. Yet something important is being lost here, something
that isn't going to be replaced by rent-by-mail outfits like Netflix,
video-on-demand services, or newfangled delivery systems like the
Disney-backed MovieBeam. Though it may never have acquired the cache
of the independent bookstore, for people who care about movies, the
video store is just as vital an institution.
Video stores aren't just a place to grab a movie. The halfway decent
ones-in other words, not Blockbuster, which is almost entirely given
over to new releases, the so-called back wall -- are places where the
enthusiasms of the cinephile find a home. The theater is a place to
see movies; the video store is a place to be among them-and to be
among other people who love movies.