What’s your own favorite “neighborhood video store” experience?

Have you ever discovered a movie while browsing the aisles, something you woudn’t have discovered otherwise?

Have you ever struck up a conversation about movies with a neighbor, or with a store employee stocking shelves, while looking for a Friday night rental?

Today’s announcement was inevitable, of course. But, like Jeffrey Wells, it saddens me. It deepens the sadness I’ve been feeling as several of my favorite local music stores close their doors and disappear.

I love the experience of strolling through the neighborhood to a video store for an hour or two of browsing. Especially if that video store is Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, which is as big as the British Museum, featuring movies that haven’t even been made yet, and movies that were made before the invention of photography.

The most enjoyable job I ever worked was in a video store. I loved setting up big displays like “The Films of Robert Downey Jr.” I loved rearranging my “Staff Picks” shelf, which actually became the only shelf that many of my customers bothered to check. Folks would come in and say, “What am I watching tonight, Jeff?” and I’d hand them One False Move, or The Crying Game, or Legend, or Close to Eden, or The Double Life of Veronique, or Midnight Run. Or, for fun, I’d point out the rare package for Disney’s The Little Mermaid… the one in which a disgruntled animator had won his revenge against Disney by sneaking something inappropriate into the cover art. It was a great place for getting to know people through lively discussions of the films they loved and hated.

It was in that context that I had the time to get to know customers and co-workers who knew a lot more about movies than I did. I might not be reading Doug Cummings‘ commentaries on world cinema, or watching the Dardennes Brothers, or checking out the latest Criterion Collection restorations, or investigating what’s happening in the Romanian New Wave like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, if it weren’t for the buried treasure I discovered at Rain City Video, and the recommendations offered in reverent, secretive whispers by those who explored those neglected shelves in the sections marked Foreign, Cult Classics, and Documentary.

Somehow, opening up iTunes and downloading Iron Man just won’t be nearly so much fun.

Perhaps you’re reading this thinking, “Sheesh, Overstreet’s really losing it. Turning into a crotchety old geezer. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just a download service.” And you may be right. But right now, as Hillarobamarama continues to throw fuel on the fires of rage and prejudice and division — all in the name of “hope” and “change” — I think neighborhoods need places where we can casually chat about stories, and pictures, and experiences, instead of react in shock at What Outrageous Thing Reverend Wright Said Today, or How Hillary’s Laughing Off the Fact That She Was Caught in Another Big Fat Lie. The more we turn to the internet for everything, the more we’ll stay in our homes, download our distractions in isolation, argue about them online with people who we only know by their screen names, and never find occasion to chat with our neighbors. The neighborhood video store is just one of those places where people connect over mutual enthusiasms, and if we lose it, what will replace it?

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