Remember video stores? -- 01/05/10

If you have just wandered in from Holidailies and wonder who's who, there's a brief introduction to various characters at the end of this entry...

You probably all know those little quizzes about remembering when telephones had rotary dials (actually, when I was a kid you picked up and an operator said "Number please") or when you only got a handful of channels on your television (actually, we just had radio until I was in third grade).

Now, "landlines" are disappearing. I recently read that more than twenty percent of U.S. homes only use cell phones and have no landline telephone service (and the number of such households is growing rapidly). Right now we do not fall into that category: we have four adults and four cell phones, plus two lanolins (one via our cable company with four wireless extension phones around the house and one traditional hardwired "phone company" line here in my office because my employer insists on me having it).

And I have no idea how many television channels we get with our digital cable package -- it's a large number -- and we also have an HBO subscription as part of our service (I can remember when there was just one HBO channel, now there are more HBO channels than the total number of cable channels we got once upon a time). The odd thing is, we don't watch very much television. We added HBO because of the Sopranos and have kept it because of their "on demand" feature where we can call up a list of their movies and programs and pick something and watch it right then.

But it's not just old-fashioned telephone service that is beginning to go away. Video stores are beginning to go the way of VHS tapes (which have followed the fate of Betamax). I can remember when a television and appliance store added a video rental department and we would go there and for ten or twelve bucks or so would rent two movies and a play-only video tape machine. Then some stand-alone video rental stores began to open. At first most stores required that you signed up (for fifty or sixty bucks per year) for a membership (which got you ten or twelve "free" rentals) but competition soon changed "membership" to mean you showed them a valid credit card for your rental. A lot of supermarkets added video rental departments for a while, but eventually most dropped that because they couldn't compete with the video stores. In some areas, the advent of national video chains drove the local mom & pop stores out of business.

When we moved to Rhode Island we found a marvelous local video store: Holly's Cinema Source. Holly was a true lover of movies and she tended to hire people who shared her enthusiasm. She ran the kind of store where asking for a recommendation could lead to a ten minute discussion about a given director and the cast, the script, the cinematography, etc. She carried not just the big hits, but lots of quirky indie films, hard-to-find titles, and a lot of foreign films.

Holly closed her business last week.

Other local competitors had closed two or three years ago. The competition from Netflix and Red Box and online downloads is just too great. I think this means that the only actual video store left in this area is a Blockbuster in Narragansett (which is in a plaza where Red Box has two video vending machines at the nearby Shop & Shop Supermarket). Two towns with a combined population of almost thirty-five thousand people and there is just one full service video store left (I don't know, there might be a few convenience stores that still have a rental rack).

We are almost at the point of "Do you remember when you used to have to drive to a video store to rent a movie?"

A brief introduction for those of you wandering in here from Holidailies for the first time: I'm just a middle-aged guy (but somehow I hit 66 on my last birthday) who lives in Rhode Island with my wife Nancy (a middle-school math teacher), daughter Gillian ("Jill" -- 27 yr old college student and baker), son Jeremy (24 yr old restaurant cook and part-time college student), and Tiger (senior citizen cat). Eldest child Adam lives in New York City with his wife Leah and our grandsons Sam and Milo. I'm a former programmer/systems analyst who got involved with software training and instructional design. For the past several years I have been working from home (you can't beat the short commute!) doing quality assurance and editing on course material for both classroom courses and Web-based training courses for a very big computer company. I've been writing this online journal since 1996.

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