Another down, few to go

Anthony Johnstone is a business analyst for Intel, Folsom

Today I drove the mile or so from my apartment to the 49er Video store at Watt and La Riviera, hoping to rent some new movies for the weekend, only to find its doors closed and its movie posters and display cases for sale. The last independent video store in my neighborhood has gone out of business—another small market victory for the giant Hollywood and Blockbuster video stores in Sacramento, a city where it’s getting harder to find a business where one might actually run into the owner inside a store.

49er Video was small, without the selection of its giant, monopolistic rivals. The space reserved for a single new release title at Blockbuster Video might equal the space for the entire “Drama” section of 49er Video. The store was, however, a place where you could find obscure titles, and great movies that the big chains shunned as too controversial, such as The Last Temptation of Christ, or Lolita. I liked the store because it didn’t have the long lines or the apathetic employees of the big stores, and the atmosphere was friendly and informal.

At 49er Video, a well-informed clerk might warn you that a movie “sucked,” or tell you that the female lead was “a babe,” and when you walked in the door, if the clerk said hello, it was because he felt like it, not because the employee manual told him he had to. I can’t count the number of times the clerks there gave me a break on a late fee. The number of times the big chains have is easy to count: 0.

I’m old enough to remember when the video-rental industry got started. Small stores were its pioneers. It took about 15 years for the big companies to feel comfortable lending their property out to average people—I think it just went against their nature. Once corporate America entered the market, however, they quickly drove small stores out of business, sometimes moving in right next door.

When I found 49er Video closed, I drove to Hollywood Video, without giving it much thought. While waiting in the long line at the register, I began to think about what I, and the neighborhood, had lost. I’m going to find another independent video store, and I’ll try to patronize it whenever possible, even if it’s far away. It’s worth it.