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Be kind, rewind: 3 remaining Seattle video stores need your business

(Photo courtesy of Mike Kelly, Reckless video)

Tonya Perfect often hears the same question when she’s working behind the counter of Video Isle in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

“‘Oh, video stores, you guys are still around?’ As they’re standing in the store!”

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There are three remaining Seattle video stores: Video Isle; Reckless Video in Maple Leaf; and Scarecrow Video in Roosevelt. Perfect says there are only about 100 independent video stores left in the country, and as most are fleeing the business. Perfect only became an owner five years ago.

“We see, regularly, new customers on a daily basis, up to about 200 a month which is really quite nice,” Perfect said. “We see a lot of people coming back in under the age of 35 who wanted to start to disconnect and reengage back with their family and friends. Do things that used to have special memories for them. We have noticed a bit of a spike in visitors coming from the Airbnb [because they often come with DVD players]. People will come in, walk by and say, ‘Oh, I haven’t been in a video store in years.'”

Scarecrow, Reckless, and Video Isle

Perfect paints a rosy picture, but Mike Kelly, who’s owned Reckless since 1991, says he makes enough to pay the bills and his employees, but he doesn’t make a profit.

“Video rental industry is struggling, that’s no mystery,” Kelly said. “No one is opening up new video stores. Netflix didn’t kill the video industry and the Internet didn’t kill the video industry. People made a different choice. So the consumers are saying we value the convenience more than we value the neighborhood culture of small business. At least, as represented by video stores.”

He also owns the hardware store next door, which is how he earns an income. But he’ll keep Reckless running as long as he can.

“I love the business, the people who use it love it. It’s been in the neighborhood for 27 years.”

Scarecrow Video is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Its survival tactic was becoming a nonprofit in 2014 so it could stay open to preserve its massive collection.

“The simple fact of the matter is, video stores still offer a huge amount of stuff that you can’t find streaming,” said Scarecrow’s marketing coordinator, Matt Lynch. “Especially a place like Scarecrow because we have one of the largest catalogs. We have about 131,000 titles opposed to the 5,000 Netflix carries. Most people think they can get anything online and they just can’t.”

Lynch adamantly advises people to keep their DVD players. He says giving them up only gives companies like Netflix and Apple the ultimate power over what you consume. Scarecrow’s executive director Kate Barr argues that a DVD player equals freedom.

“Now I’m going to get on my First Amendment soapbox,” Barr said. “Back in the ’80s when home video technology came into being, the reason why it was so powerful is it just totally broke down the control that corporations had over what people could watch. So prior to that, if you wanted to watch something, either you went to your local cinema or you had to watch what was on three channels on television — all controlled by major corporations and all very limited.”

“Then the ’80s come along and home video comes along and all of a sudden I get to decide what I wanted to see,” she said. “I remember the first time I walked into a video store and all of the movies that were from countries I didn’t even know made movies. My diet at that point, of movies, had just been American because that’s what was showing at the cinema and that was what was on television. So it is sort of ironic to me that we’ve come full circle and once again we’re just handing control over what we watch to big corporations.”

Seattle video stores

All three video stores are trying to push out the message that convenience does not always equal quality. Both Scarecrow and Video Isle have started programming events for customers. Reckless has its own marketing angle.

“Look folks, you’re making a choice and we really appreciate you choosing to come in to rent a movie,” Kelly said. “Because here is Noelle, here’s Kelsey, these are the employees who are benefiting from your business. People have bought homes, people have gone to college and finished school, they got work experience and we’ve taught them how to be responsible. We’ve employed a lot of people and Netflix doesn’t do that in Seattle.”

So be kind, rewind, and pop into your local video store if you want it to stay open. Or if you’re craving a nostalgic snack.

“We have Red Vines available; you can get six for a quarter, always,” Perfect said, who also offers each customer a bag of free, freshly popped popcorn in a red and white striped paper sleeve.

If you’ve already gotten rid of your DVD and/or VHS player, Scarecrow rents them for every format available to rent in their store.

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