Saturday, October 11, 2008

Video stores, dying and reborn

Before Netflix, and before Amazon, I used to frequent video stores. I still visit good ones, mostly to buy former rental DVDs at low, low prices (they are almost always in near-mint condition playback-wise, unlke tapes). But most, even the mom-and-pops, have indifferent selections indistinguishable from Blockbuster's. Face it: They're relics of the 80's just as Netflix (and my entire collection) will be relics of the 90's when it's all available via computer, or wireless implants to the brain, or something.

But the news (in the Arthouse section) that 23-year-old Mondo Kim's is closing is still bittersweet. The store was grungy, and its employees, focused on becoming the next big auteur, reportedly pesky (I spoke their language, so wouldn't know, but I did detect some eye-rolling when a customer reached for the latest Sandra Bullock rather than the arranged-by-director choices elsewhere on the shelves). Still, back in the pre-web day, I hung out there a lot, and have fond memories, of the St. Mark's store and its Bleecker Street location, which closed some time ago, around when Tower Video (sniff) was biting the dust. The First Avenue location seems more like a forestalling of the inevitable than a continuation.

But I'm happy to see that the Lai Ying video store in Chinatown, the next best thing to the long-shuttered movie theaters there, is getting a new lease on life. Even if you don't much care for Asian cinema, the neighborhood shops are fun to walk around in, and I do buy from them. (Do I watch what I buy? Well, maybe someday.) They serve a useful niche for homesick immigrants and incorrigible cinephiles, and serve it well.

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