Nick Picks: Why Are We Nostalgic For Video Stores?

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Welcome to Nick Picks, a regular column by Nick Spake. There are countless important questions regarding the current state of cinema and I’m here to answer them.

Watching movies from your home theater has never been easier. Netflix offers a wide range of old classics and new releases, not to mention countless TV shows subscribers love to binge-watch in one sitting. If Netflix isn’t streaming the movie you’re looking for, you can always order the DVD and have it delivered by mail. Of course if you really need to watch the movie immediately, you can digitally rent it off Amazon, YouTube, or On Demand for a small fee. Yep, there’s virtually no downside to our current setup with almost every movie in existence being accessible in some way. So why is it that people occasionally find themselves nostalgic for video stores?

There was a time when a world without video stores seemed unthinkable. With the rise of on demand Internet streaming, though, chains like Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video started to lack purpose. Now the closest thing we have to video stores are those Redbox Machines you find outside of the local convenience store. It isn’t surprising that traditional video stores died out as they had a ton of drawbacks in retrospect.

For example, renting multiple movies could be expensive and you could end up owing a totally unreasonable late charge if you didn’t return the videos on time. Sometimes the store could run out of the movie you were hoping to rent, especially if it was a popular new release. If you were looking for an older movie, there was also an extreme possibility that the store might not even carry it. On top of all that, you could argue that video stores officially became dated once videos themselves were completely switched out with DVDs.

For all the faults video stores had, they did offer something that Netflix and Amazon don’t: an adventure. Okay, so renting a movie might not sound like an epic quest, but it was a fun activity for a kid growing up in dull suburbia. I personally have numerous fond memories of going to the video store every Friday after school. Following a long week of homework and tests, renting a movie and video game was the ideal way to reward myself. That rental would additionally play a huge role in my weekend.

I’ll never forget the weekend I first rented the Back to the Future trilogy or when I took a chance on a little game called Kingdom Hearts. Before having a Netflix subscription, I must have rented every season of 24 on DVD. Getting the next DVD always gave me something to look forward to throughout the week and my next trip to the video store couldn’t come soon enough. What’s more, video stores had a wonderful atmosphere with posters, candy, and movie geeks at the front desk.

With online streaming, the adventure has basically been cut out and your treasure if just handed to you on a silver platter. This is more convenient for sure, but it still feels like we’re losing something in the process. It’s kind of like comparing a road trip to a plane trip. The plane trip will get you to your destination faster and more efficiently, but you’re more likely to remember the road trip. Even if the road trip was full of hardships, part of you will likely look back on the experience with warm memories regardless.

While we are losing something special with Internet streaming, we’re also gaining a lot. Years ago, indie films and documentaries rarely got attention from mainstream audiences. That’s partially because video stores didn’t always do the best job at promoting smaller films. Usually they’d only carry a couple copies and they were easy to disregard when stacked up against bigger titles. Now that Netflix is showcasing a wide variety of entertainment, though, important films like Blackfish and The Square are more likely to find a wide audience. Now more than ever, overlooked gems are getting the attention they deserve and that’s thanks to on demand services.

Society is constantly evolving. In order to further progress, we need to cut out certain retailers that are simply obsolete. Change can be hard, but sometimes change is for the best. That’s why VHS replaced Beta, DVD replaced VHS, and why Blu-ray is slowly replacing DVD. Video stores may be a thing of the past. For all the good times they offered in their prime, however, video stores should never be entirely forgotten.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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