Monday, June 1, 2015

Requiem For A Video Store

Today brought the very sad news that That’s Rentertainment! is closing its doors.  It is that rarest of places, an independent video store. While it might be tempting to just be happy that such an institution managed to last as long as it did, and even outlast the Blockbuster locations in Champaign-Urbana, such facts are cold comfort for me.

That’s Rentertainment! was a major part in an unofficial, independent study course I took in graduate school.  There were no professors or seminars, just the films at Rentertainment and my curiosity.  They pretty much had anything you would want, including stuff you didn’t know ever existed.  I still remember walking in for the first time and seeing an entire wall of French film (all on glorious VHS, of course.)  This included bootleg copies of films that did not have official release, especially  suppressed music docs like C***sucker Blues and Let It Be.

It was a small place, cramped and labyrinthine in order to fit the amazing stock of movies.  It was very common for me to run into friends there and chit chat, or ask one of the clerks for a recommendation.  During my five years in Champaign-Urbana I would commonly go there two, three times a week, sometimes not even renting anything, but just enjoying the space.

We are living in a world where spaces like this are fast fading away.  The record store in campustown, Record Service, closed while I was a grad, though at least Exile On Main Street opened in downtown Champaign.  The little diner in my Urbana neighborhood was forced to shut its doors to make way for a parking lot expansion at the court house.  Pages For All Ages, the local independent book store, also went under.  If these institutions can’t survive in a college town with a massive student body far from the box stores of the suburbs, where can they survive?

Considering all the bad that is going on in the world, it might seem silly to lament the passing of a video store in a town where I haven’t lived in nine years.  I think of it more as a lament for the society we live in, one where corporate entities crowd out independent businesses that actually offer a higher quality experience.  That’s Rentertainment! had stuff you would never find even on Netflix, and you didn’t have to wait two days for it to come in the mail, either.  I don't know how many times I've watched something on Netflix streaming I really wasn't all that interested in merely because I couldn't go out and get the movie I truly wanted to see.  

We increasingly live and congregate in cyberspace, and our real lived environments are getting ever more alienating as they paradoxically get more bland.  I have  a feeling that this trend is far from over, especially because most people seem to think this narrowing of options is actually progress.

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