Slow Fade-Out for Video Stores

Published on September 30, 2010
by Jessica E. Vascellaro and Sam Schechner

Blockbuster Inc.’s bankruptcy last week has made it official: Technology is killing the video-rental store—and a piece of American culture with it.

Alan Sklar feels it. The 61-year-old has stood behind the counter of Alan’s Alley Video in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood for 22 years. Revenue is down, and his staff, which reached 10 a few years ago, is now about five. “If we pay the bills we’re happy,” he said.

Many nights, like last Thursday, are very quiet.

He lists the culprits. “Netflix (NFLX), Redbox and on demand,” he said, over Audrey Hepburn’s voice emanating from a television in the corner playing “Funny Face.”

“People like things being given to them. We don’t see as many warm bodies.”

Since the first video-rental shops emerged in the late 1970s, they have served as shrines to films and created new social spaces for neighborhoods, often reflecting their personalities. They drew cinephiles, rebellious teens seeking movies of which their parents might not approve, and budding young actors and directors who canonized them in their work.

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