Exposure: Video stores — A missed pastime

Video stores have gone extinct.

For the most part.

You might find one struggling to get by in remote areas where streaming hasn’t caught on, or doesn’t have the ability to. Or you might find some movies, surely coated in dust, to rent at a creepy gas station off of the interstate, where “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is probably still on the new release wall.

But for the most part, these stores are now something of a distant memory of the ’90s and early 2000s, where movie lovers or teenagers who needed something to watch at a sleepover would gather to pick a movie to watch.

Somehow I was able to work at one of those straggling stores, West Coast Video, Mill Hall, until the sad-but-long-expected news came that we would finally be shutting our doors for good, just last year.

Movies have been a passion of mine as long as I can remember. When I was 16, I was determined that my first job was going to be at the local movie theater. After working there for about two years, I started working at our local Blockbuster store. We got the news of liquidation there a bit earlier, in 2010. I was there for only a little over a year.

West Coast Video still stood, and needing another part-time job while in college, it was my next choice. I started working there in 2011. We were told shortly after I started that we were facing certain closure. We started marking down our prices, but then we convinced the store’s owner to move the store to a cheaper location in order to stay open. We had so many loyal customers, surely they would support us.

So we moved the entire store across the street to a smaller location, which provided cheaper rent.

There we stayed, but people came in less and less as time went by, even losing several of the most loyal customers. People would at times, walk in with a shocked look on their face, “You guys still exist?!” they’d exclaim, as they picked up a physical DVD and examined it as if it were some ancient artifact.

But there was something wonderful about being a sales associate at a movie store.

Sharing knowledge with your movie-buff co-workers, getting to watch movies before they came out, chatting with customers about movies one thing I enjoyed the most was being able to figure out the title of a movie that a customer was thinking of. “What was that one movie starring Jack Nicholson came out sometime in the ’90s? “

That ah! moment when the lightbulb went off, and you were able to point them in the right direction, while displaying just how good you were at your job.

But people no longer desire the human interaction that was once so commonplace. We now live in a society where getting movies from a touch screen vending machine or streaming them right from our computer or other device is normal. In the 21st century, convenience and instant gratification reign, so the movie rental business model was sure to fail.

But I sure do miss it. Netflix, Redbox, On Demand and other servies may provide immediacy, no late fees (somewhat), and convienence, but the conversation with strangers and co-workers about a common interest on a daily basis as part of a job is no longer there. There’s not much to do but shrug, and laugh as we tell future generations how crazy it was that we had to go to a physical store to rent movies at one point in time.

Hewitt is the assistant lifestyle editor and also a reporter at the Sun-Gazette. “Exposure” will be printed on the last Thursday of each month. Follow @ExposureSG on Twitter to keep up with updates between columns.