The Internet Killed The Video Store

After 13 years, Alphaville closes its doors

Opinion | Susan Doering | October 2010

Not long ago an American friend of mine teased me in a slightly patronising sort of way when he discovered that I went to a video/DVD shop to rent a movie, which entailed my having to rush back the very next day, or else pay 2 days rental (which, of course, being a thrifty soul, I always tried not to do).

In the States, he pronounced, all the DVD stores (that’s what shops are called over the pond) had closed down long ago and everyone ordered their films online, the desired entertainment arriving promptly a couple of days later in the mailbox. You watched the film and posted it back when you had finished, he explained. Yes, I agreed, that did seem like a very practical and efficient way of obtaining one’s cinematic fix.

But efficiency, I beg to claim, as in other things, is not the only criterion.

First, how would I know what to order? Am I supposed to scroll through 3,548 film titles, which would not necessarily mean anything to me anyway, or spend hours punching in search words? You, dear reader, may be a focused cinematographic consumer. I am not.

My video/DVD shop, Alphaville, is very close to where I live, about 6 minutes walk, in fact, nothing but a gentle stroll. It has a huge selection of films in several languages and it is staffed by some of the nicest young men (well, yes there are a couple of young women, too, but the story does not have them as the principal actors) I have ever met. They are not only polite and friendly but also helpful and knowledgeable, both about their stock and about the cinematographic world in general. It is a delight to engage in conversation with them, and, over the 5 years that I have lived in the flat I now call home, I have enjoyed many warm-hearted and interesting conversations (and learned a lot about films in the process). Not a common occurrence in a shop nowadays and certainly not possible with an online DVD store.

So, there was never a problem about what to order, in my rental shop, because if I didn’t have a particular film in mind, I would either browse the shelves and go by the sleeves, or (even better) ask whichever friendly young man was on duty for a recommendation. You see, they had got to know me over time, they knew that I was a serious-drama-with-some-clever-comedy-thrown-in type; they knew my favourite actors and actresses, and occasionally they would suggest something ‘"out of the box", and very rarely got it wrong.

Today, I stopped at "my" shop on the way home after taking my younger son to the airport (off on a 3-month trip to New York), as I was feeling just slightly lonely and knew that a good film at the end of the day with a good glass of wine would set me right. Imagine my shock when I discovered nearly bare shelves and sad RIP posters proclaiming the demise of the business. For a second I thought it was a bad joke. Why had no one told the faithful regulars?

Well, apparently they had sent out 3,800 emails and one day later the vultures had swooped down. They had sold off the stock at €6 a DVD and there were only a few score left. Why had I never received such an email? I don’t know. I have a friend who swears there is a (black) wizard of cyberspace. There may well be, and he may well have diverted any email that may have been sent and caused it to end in a black hole.

There was no point in being accusatory, especially as it was actually my favourite young man on duty. He was even more devastated than I, for the video shop was his livelihood. He has no job to go to, and is literally facing nothing. He doesn’t even know exactly when they are going to finally close down the store. The owner must be a hard-hearted man.

I will miss the little friendly talks; I will miss the recommendations; I will miss going in the next day and telling them what I thought of the film they had recommended. In short, I feel as though a friend has died.

And how will I get my DVDs? I really don’t know. I suppose I will have to research the matter of online DVD rentals. Sad, sad.

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