Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Praise of Video Journeys

Took a walk down the hill yesterday (heading towards the farmer's market) and noticed that the Blockbuster store is gone, the storefront empty: sayonara, big chain video store.

Across Hyperion, the independent store Video Journeys is going strong. They have no corporate logo, just a modest printed sign draped over the railing as you walk upstairs to the shop. The guys working there don't have matching smocks or "team member" badges. The place isn't "branded." It's just full of DVD's (and, on the eastern wall, some VHS tapes if you are so inclined).

Blockbuster had more copies of fewer titles, less variety, and to check out you had to dodge a slalom course of buckets full of microwave popcorn, magazine racks, and assorted crap Blockbuster tried to sell along with movies. Then, when you got to the register, you could try asking a question about your movie on the off-chance the young person in the corporate-branded smock knew something about that movie, or its genre, or other movies. Usually, you met someone who was there because they needed a job.

The folks at Video Journeys like movies. They recommend movies you never heard of, but will likely enjoy. It's a laid-back place, well suited for browsing, populated with staff who know the neighbors almost as well as the movies. (I'm greeted by name every time I walk in.)

It's a great place and and I feel a warm satisfaction that Blockbuster came in, set up a store across the street, and lost the competition. Something in Blockbuster's DNA - its impersonal, corporate approach - completely misses the quality of a place like VJ. Blockbusters may as well be a drive-through store selling Big Macs: they pick the hot titles, fill up the shelves with those few, eliminating the odd and novel, then bundle products by putting the diacetyl-buttered popcorn and the fridge full of cokes near the end of the line, trying to keep as many people moving quickly in and out of the door as possible.

Things move more slowly at Video Journeys, but every time I rent a DVD, the disc is carefully taken out of the box and gently given a wipe with some cleaner. And they always put an extra stamp or two on my card, moving me a little closer to the free rentals at the bottom.

Bless those folks. I hope they are still around when the Blockbusters kraken finally dies.

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