Commentary

A Paean to the Video Rental Store

Browsing for titles in an actual bricks and mortar store is nothing short of a luxurious experience.

By Matt Moir
Published April 03, 2013

My wife and I bought our first home in February. It's in the Locke Street area. In the time between purchasing the house and taking possession of it, we've been staying with my lovely in-laws at their place in the suburbs. The room that we sleep in - my wife's childhood one - is right next to her parents' room. So there's that.

And though there are some decent aspects to living in suburbia (I might leave it to greater minds than mine to identify what those things are) and I am very grateful for my in-laws' generosity, there are some things in which the 'burbs just don't measure up.

One of those things - perhaps the most significant, in my humble opinion - is the lack of that noble old institution, the video rental store.

I've always been a sucker for the venerable video rental store; unrepentantly old school, and kicking sand in the face of technological progress. But the battle it's fighting is a losing one. Netflix and iTunes have rendered video stores virtually extinct outside of urban areas.

In the particular suburb in which I'm staying, the closest 'video store' is a small, darkened corner in a convenience store, and to get there requires getting in the car and actually driving on a highway. It's absurd.

My lament for the deeply troubling lack of video stores is often met with a toxic cocktail of confusion, indifference and contempt from my wife. She scoffs at my plight; she rolls her eyes and demands to know what the problem is with just downloading something like everyone else in the 21st century.

For shame! She can roll her eyes all she wants, for I, like the protagonist in an Albert Camus novel, welcome her scorn. I court it.

Besides, visiting a video rental store is quite clearly far superior to downloading movies online.

First, browsing for titles in an actual bricks and mortar store is nothing short of a luxurious experience. You can stand in front of a wall - multiple walls! - of DVD covers, and let your eyes scan the buffet of titles before you.

You can actually pick up the cases of multiple films and carefully ponder and compare the titles. And when your gaze falls upon that film you made a mental note to watch months ago, but have since forgotten about? We all know that feeling is nearly indescribable.

That experience is head and shoulders above the mind-numbing act of clicking from page to page, dumbly hoping for some critics' aggregate site to make a decision for you.

Crucially important for the serious film snob is selection, and a good independent video store will offer you just that. Think you're going to hop onto iTunes or Netflix and find that French-Belgian white-collar thriller you've been dying to see all winter? Think again, my friends.

By using iTunes, you're going to be stuck with the formulaic rom-com and dull-witted action flicks favored by the unwashed masses.

It's an intolerable state of affairs. Only a bona fide rental store is going to offer those foreign films, those art-house flicks, and those ironic classics from yesteryear required to sate the appetite of film lovers with discerning tastes.

And of course it is a surprise to no one that local, independently run businesses are the backbone of any thriving neighborhood. The cool video store with the weird titles, the artisanal fromagerie selling outrageously priced cheddar, the pet store offering personalized cupcakes for the family dog: these are the businesses offering a valiant defence against the big box onslaught (if anyone knows this, it's a Locke Streeter).

They should be supported at all costs, lest our society drown in a sea of Blinds To Gos and Crabby Joes.

Finally, those of us of a certain age might remember those sunny afternoons from our youth when we hopped onto our bikes and, with our friends, pedaled to the local video store that, if you were as lucky as I, offered complimentary popcorn to its customers.

Mostly we would rent VHS films starring towers of the industry like Bruce Willis or Sly Stallone. Gloriously, those movies often featured a solid four to five seconds of an actress baring her breasts.

I remember the magical feeling of giddy anticipation while riding home, my friends and I bursting with pride in our successful effort to rent a wretchedly bad movie featuring a laughable script and topless women.

We were too young to have to worry about the pressure of school or the demands of a job, but certainly old enough to embrace a measure of youthful independence, and renting movies with friends was as much a rite of passage as an act of commerce.

And though I can't recall the titles or plots of those movies, I do remember lazy Saturdays in the summer hanging out with friends who I don't see anymore, and I can't help but to remember them fondly.

Maybe downloading movies from home is easier and faster and more convenient than going to a store to rent one, but it doesn't build those types of memories. And that, truly, is a shame.

So maybe you should think about that the next time you plan on spending the night in, and rent a movie by clicking smugly on your laptop. I'll be walking my dog to Select Video.

Matt Moir is a teacher and journalism student at Sheridan College.

10 Comments

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 13:38:20

We LOVE Select Video. Been going there for 12 years. Wow, I didn't even know they had a website. Pretty fancy.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-04-03 13:38:54

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By j (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 14:47:20

hardly a aource for avant garde. My experience of some of the dvd-by-mail services was way better than Select Video. It's really inevitable for this to go online.

I also disagree with your lauding of the gentrified Locke street price gouger as symbol of local business. Go to Denningers or Home Hardware, places that stock all the things you can get at Walmart and at comparable prices but without the wasted time and space.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 15:00:36

Dear God how I love Select Video. I moved out to the west end so I've not been there in years, but a lot of what I know about movies I learned from what I rented there. A great place.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 15:29:46 in reply to Comment 87627

Ditto. That and having 3 kids now means any outings that can be avoided in favour of shopping online prettymuch eradicates my regular trips to the video store... but I used to be a regular there. Great store, great staff.

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By Jessica (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 17:57:12

For whatever reason, I'm out of step with my generation and not a fan of downloading movies. I also prefer a good ol' dvd that I found by perusing a wall of movies. Since the last independent video store moved out of my neighborhood quite a few years ago, I've since taken my business to my local library branch. The selection is pretty great and even better free! Thier website is very user friendly and you can put videos on hold and have them sent to your local branch. I was quite torn when I started to notice all the video stores going away, but discovering the selection of movies at the library has filled that void.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 19:26:15

We pretty much exclusively use 1channel.ch (NOT .com!) We don't have cable TV - just HD antenna for TVO and CBC. If you can navigate the ads, tricks and spam on 1channel - pretty much everything you could ever want to watch is there - including the latest episode of the Walking Dead. Actually, it can be a daunting task to decide what you want to watch - I just started with episode 1 of Game of Thrones last night because I've seen pretty much everything else I'm remotely interested in watching.

Netflix stinks in Canada. And to be frank, I am simply not willing to pay $5-$10 to stream a movie or TV show - especially not at the volume that I watch - usually a movie or a few episodes of a TV show every couple nights.

Most of the time, I am not really watching TV - I am usually working on a project with the TV on in the background which I occasionally pay attention to.

If Netflix actually had the content that 1channel does, I would happily pay the $8 per month. Likewise - I would pay around a dollar and under to forgo the trials and sketchy quality of 1channel without a second thought - if some mainstream entity actually offered that - but not $5 - $10 a pop.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 04, 2013 at 19:55:41 in reply to Comment 87639

unblock-us.com - $5 a month to let you masquerade as whatever nationality you like online, getting you access to netflix, hulu, etc. Netflix in particular is nice in that they don't care what country your membership is from - if you have a membership and your computer is "in" country X, then they'll stream that country's service to you.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted April 05, 2013 at 16:11:48 in reply to Comment 87669

Now we're talkin!

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted April 04, 2013 at 04:20:17

I miss the video store too. I don't download movies, but I find the experience of using the cable company's "on demand" service kills my demand... for those times where I'm interested in watching a movie but not quite sure what I want to watch.

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By Kristin (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2013 at 19:14:19

Hmmm, I've lived in the Locke St. area for 5 years and I've never been to Select Video. Will have to check it out.

My main source for movie rentals is the public library branch on Locke. Good selection of recent titles and they're free :o)

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