- Posted September 10, 2012 by
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Philadelphia's Last Video Store?
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer
On a run down street in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, a magical era is slowly coming to an end. It's in that struggling part of town where Movies Movies Movies, possibly the last independently owned video rental store in the entire city, may soon close its doors forever. The small store, filled with thousands of DVDs and VHS tapes and covered from floor to ceiling with movie posters, houses more than just films. Movies Movies Movies contains the remnants of a culture that fed the creativity of a generation.
However, in order for me to explain what made a small video store so magical, I need to rewind the clock and go back to the early 1980's, when the Video Home System, or VHS tape, had just victoriously emerged from the VHS/Betamax wars. It was during this time that prices for purchasing movies on the newly crowned format were still relatively high, especially for fixed-income urban families.
During that time, independently-owned video rental stores, which first began opening in the late 1970s, became extremely popular in major cities across America. Before such stores led to the creation of video rental chains like West Coast, Blockbuster and Rogers Video, entrepreneurs such as Movies Movies Movies owner Dominic, opened stores to serve their local communities. Some were purely interested in profit, while others truly enjoyed watching movies and thought it would be a great way to earn a living (and more fun than running a laundry). This is what happened in Dominic's case. A former magician and entertainer, he opened his first Movies Movies Movies in the mid-1980's, eventually expanding to 7 stores at his peak, before neighborhood dynamics and large chains, came into play during the late 1990's.
It was the time in between the early 1980's and late 1990's that made video outlets such as this, so special. As inner city cultural make-ups shifted, proprietors like Dominic felt the urge to school young, unaware film lovers about more than merely the new releases. They would recommend little-known titles that they may not have been aware of otherwise. This lead to a larger percentage of serious movie buffs who - not unlike music fans who seek out classic jazz or rock, eschewing current popular music - became minor cultural critics. In some cases these shop proprietors also became confidantes, father figures and friends. This lead to neighborhood kids looking forward to - not just watching movies - but making that weekly, or even daily, trip to the local video store, to visit mates in front of, and behind, the counter. I'd compare it to Norm's daily pilgrimage to Cheers, but swap beer with video tapes.
Now, years later, Dominic is down to a single store that's located in a building he owns, with a simple black and yellow sign outside that reads "VIDEO." Most of his films are now on DVD, but I didn't see a single Blu-ray disc. He no longer rents movies, but sells to a regular client base, many of whom grew up inside of his hallowed space, at one location or another. The 82 year old also gets visits from many local movie buffs, who regularly converge to discuss current theatrical offerings, upcoming regional revival screenings, and hard-to-find classics that may rarely be found . . . or suggested. . . again.
These images are part of my ongoing photo essay Blvd. Warriors, which documents how urban America was inspired by Asian martial arts and popular culture.