The Last Video Store
Oct 02, 2019
Miguel Gomez grew up going to his local video store. He’d spend hours perusing the selections, admiring the VHS cover designs, asking the clerks for recommendations, and whittling down the choices to one rental, which he’d bring home and watch with his family.
In the late 1990s, Gomez looked on as Netflix all but killed the video store. By 2014, Blockbuster had shut nearly all of its franchise locations. (Today, one remains in Bend, Oregon.) For Gomez—and movie lovers everywhere—the death of the video store heralded the end of an era. Algorithms were replacing the human interactions that made picking a movie an enjoyable experience. You used to be able to walk into a video store without knowing what to rent; a video-store clerk might recommend something unique to your preferences, and you’d be on your way to a new cinematic discovery. These days, it’s an effort to make an informed decision about what to watch. The endless barrage of content that modern streaming services offer induces a kind of browsing fatigue in which choice can feel paralyzing.
When Gomez moved to a small town outside Philadelphia, he lamented its lack of a video store. So he opened one himself. Roy Power’s short documentary Memory Video is a portrait of Gomez and his homespun operation—one of the last rental stores of its kind.
“We have a lot of people that see us as a museum or a curiosity,” Gomez says in the film. “They step in and want to feel the vibe of a video store. I prefer folks that I can recommend something to. I adore that sort of thing—turning people on to things that I think are really cool. Every one of those interactions reminds me of why a video store is awesome and why I need to keep one going.”
Gomez’s store, Viva Video, is more passion project than profit-making venture. It doesn’t pay the bills, so Gomez moonlights as a registered nurse. “I basically volunteer for Viva Video because I want it to be around,” he says.
When Power first visited Viva Video, he was struck by its lack of pretension. “You can go in there and talk about Terrence Malick, or you can talk about Armageddon, or you can even talk about Netflix, and there’s no judgment,” Power told me. “Everyone there just loves movies, no questions asked.” Power said the store’s customer base attracts a diverse demographic, from families looking to rent Disney movies to “nerds like me who come in to rent old Herzog documentaries.”
“It's a friendly community center for anything and everything movie-related,” said Power. In this way, Viva Video is not only an anomaly—it is an embodiment of what disappeared when streaming took over.
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Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.