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From Hammer to Nail: What We Lose When We Lose Video Stores

By Alex Ross Perry | Indiewire March 31, 2012 at 12:48PM

Perry's interview with Joe Martin, the longtime proprietor of East Village rental store Reel Life--which closes its doors for good at the end of this month--is an unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to the deterioration of the physical video store.
10

Alex Ross Perry: When the Williamsburg store opened, you were 25. Were there DVDs?

Joe Martin: No DVDs in Williamsburg. DVDs happened later and it was my DVD collection that we opened the Park Slope store with. I had something like 250, 300 DVDs. And I brought them here. My entire videotape collection is what we opened the store in Williamsburg with.

ARP: When this location opened in 2000, DVDs had come along. My memory of that time, for the rental business, was a weird thing because tapes had the rental period [Ed: A tape of a new release would first be ‘priced to rent’ and could cost anywhere from $60-$120 per copy. Only much later would it be ‘priced to own’ for something like $20.] and DVDs changed that because all of a sudden, the date the tape was available to rent, you could get the DVD for 20 dollars instead of the tape for 70.

JM: It was totally a huge change. For one thing, with the two stores, especially when it was just video tapes, the weekly new releases that we would get in would run anywhere from 1,200 to 2,500 dollars a week, so it was a huge amount of outlay for the new release stuff on videotape. When eventually we made the move to just DVDs, everything was coming out at the retail price. It’s the trade off between getting a lot more product for the money that you were spending, but at the same time a lot of people were going out and buying DVDs because they were available at the sell through price.

ARP: The new releases were no longer purchased on tape.

JM: Yeah, although we definitely kept getting tapes for a long time, virtually right up until the studios stopped.

ARP: And at that point they were 20 dollars.

JM: Yeah.

People definitely rent no matter what.


ARP: Starting in October 2000, I worked in a store that just sold. I started the week the first X-Men movie and Gladiator came out on DVD and they were 20, 25 dollars. Did that change the way people rented right away? Did they start renting less, instantly?

JM: People definitely rent no matter what. I remember, the first tape that came out at the sell through price was Pi. I think Pi, to this day, is the movie that we got the most of anything. I think we got 30 copies of Pi on VHS when it came out. And that was strictly because it was at a sell through price and we knew people wanted to see it. When everything was in that 20-to-30 dollar range, a lot of the collectors, started to move away. The people who would actually dupe. You knew they were coming in to get whatever it was just to record it at home. A lot of those people just started purchasing their stuff.

ARP: Because rentals were four dollars, and to own was 20. At this point, you are 28 and you’ve opened this location. What was the rental culture like? What were people coming in looking for in 2000, 2001?

JM: The later on the store went, a lot of the customers who came in ended at new releases. That’s the way it’s been over the last couple of years. They just come in and do not move past the new releases into the rest of the store. In 2000, there was a lot more interest in the sort of repertory titles and stuff. A lot of people would come in for the horror. We have a foreign horror section, and a lot of people were into the more obscure stuff. It was definitely way more involved. Now the horror section wouldn’t get anywhere near the use it did in 2000. Or even the cult stuff.

ARP: In 2000 I remember, if you wanted any of the new Japanese horror movies, they were hard to track down. And you had those initially. And people were looking for that, and people came to know that they could get them here.

JM: I used to go to Chiller Theater shows, and we’d spend 1,000 dollars getting stuff, and we at least knew we’d make our money back. And I think last time I went to Chiller, every title I got only rented once or twice and that was it.

ARP: Those tapes, when you bought them, were 30 dollars for a dub. And people in the neighborhood were excited about renting them. And the Williamsburg store as well, you were still keeping up with that and trying to do new things?

JM: We used to sell magazines. We had Shock Cinema, Rue Morgue, Premiere, and even Cineaste and Sight and Sound. So really the sort of thing I was trying to do, was find obscure movies. Whether they be horror or foreign or noir, or what have you, I just liked finding the most obscure stuff I could possibly find. That’s what I thought was interesting, and that’s when the store really worked, was when people were coming in really interested in that sort of thing.

This article is related to: Alex Ross Perry






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