End credits rolled and like an old cowboy drenched in Technicolor, ‘Pleasant Street Video’ metaphorically rode off into the sunset of local memory at 6pm last night, closing its doors for the final time.
The announcement that the small independent movie rental store that has animated the corner of Pleasant and Armory streets in downtown Northampton for the past twenty-five years would be closing in July; came last month after five years of declining revenue.
“Stores like this have alot of ‘overhead’,”said Dana Gentes, a co-owner first hired by the store as a manager in 1987 . “There are insurance costs, electricity; and that stuff never goes down. So when business goes down it gets more and more difficult to pay the bills, and we haven’t really done that successfully over the past couple of years.”
They aren’t alone. In May, the last video rental store in Franklin County was forced to fold and even ‘Blockbuster’ the corporate king of video rental chains, filed for bankruptcy last year. Gentes says that new technologies and business models are making stores like his into things of the past.
“People [are] spending more time online. [They’re] places like ‘Netflix’, ‘On Demand’, and ‘Red Box’. “People don’t need to physically go to a store like this and physically take a movie home with them. They can get it online. They can get it delivered in the mail.”
But as true as that might be, the demise of places such as ‘Pleasant Street Video’ also mean that many of those titles populating the library style bookcases behind the store counter, will be more difficult to track down.
” You can get some of those (rare movies) online. A lot of them you can’t,” said Bill Dwight, former City Councilor and local radio host (yes, that Bill Dwight) who has worked as a clerk at the store since 1986 when the store first opened. ” Its getting harder and harder to find some of the stuff you can find here pretty easily.”
Not to mention can anyone else think of another place where you get a video membership card with Chewbacca on it? Furthermore where else can one buy a Marlene Dietrich or ‘Got Kubrick’ bumper sticker?
‘Pleasant Street Video’ was first conceived of in the late 1980s by John Morrison and Richard Pini, who were then owners of ‘the Pleasant Street Theater’ next door. At the time the home video market was just taking off and an increasing number of people were buying vcrs. So when the business up for sale, the two men purchased it and in September of 1986 opened up ‘Pleasant Street Video’.
In the time that it was open, the little quirky fine arts video store became part of the fabric of the down town area. Its movie posters wrapped in plastic leaned up against the window, the face of a black and white Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ pressed against the glass, Godzilla dolls crowding shelves at opposing ends of the store, the small familiar pool of film-savvy clerks and patrons coming in day after day, and the rickety staircase leading downstairs; all hallmarks of a place Gentes describes as having the feel of ‘ an old General Store’ where the talk of movies and conversation personal and otherwise was always in abundance.
But even in the 1980s and early 90s when opening video stores was a profitable enterprise, Dwight in an interview just two weeks prior to the closing, said Morrison, Pini, and the others brought something to the business that so manyrental stores didn’t . Namely a knowledge and passion for film itself.
” Most of those (video rental stores) in the nineteen eighties when they opened up their ‘Mom and Pop’ operations, didn’t necessarily have much to do with movies,” said Dwight. “They liked watching movies, everyone does that. But this place is different in that these are cinephiles. People who opened this up really understood and studied film. Appreciated film. I mean, most ‘mom and pop’ video stores that opened up didn’t have a silent film section. They didn’t have a section devoted to Greek cinema, but this store does and did.”
The 1990s saw some changes though for the store. Co-owner John Morrison left the business. Likewise, fellow owner Richard Pini while still involved and retaining ownership of the property, left the area and relocated to his native France where he still resides.
Now, about $60, in the red, the news that the store was closing didn’t exactly come as a shock. Over the past few years, a ‘For Sale’ sign could be seen posted in the window and there would be murmurs every now and then about it. In 2009, Pini put the property up for sale, but permitted ‘Pleasant Street’ to remain open until a buyer of the property could be found.
“We’ve seen this coming slowly but surely, and knew there was going to come a tipping point when it was beyond viable and reasonable to stay open,” said Dwight. ” But it is sad. Twenty-five years, doing anything for a quarter of a century, particularly if you like it and I do, comes with all the associated sadness that goes with something like that.”
Many of the stores most frequent patrons would seem to concur. Looking at its Facebook page which is 1,923 fans strong, one can see a torrent of both sadness and nostalgia. Bridgette Godwin, who mentioned in a previous post that she has been a video store member from its earliest years; wrote this:
‘When we were in last night to rent a bag for $1/each and donate 3 DVDs to Forbes~ my daughter asked me : “does it make your heart hurt that this is closing?”,,,,,,,YES!’
It seems William Shakespeare was right when he wrote that parting is such sweet sorrow.
Forbes Library Effort:
But those who worry about the real soul of ‘Pleasant Street Video’, namely the movies need not be worried. The Forbes Library in Northampton in the past month in conjunction with the store has actively sought to buy much of the arsenal of DVDs and videos. Thereby allowing anyone with a library card to continue renting some of their favorites for free.
” Forbes got really excited about the prospect and started a fundraiser to try to generate enough money to buy our stock,” said Dwight and aside from a small slice of their thousands of films that they put up for sale in its last few days of business, they won’t be selling movies to anyone else.
A donation of eight dollars will allow Forbes to purchase a specific movie from the curated film collection of the folks at Pleasant Street, allowing them to pay off some of its debts, and any cinefanatic (yes, I think I coined a word there) will in the future be able to return rent those movies from the library at no cost.
” They will have the heart and soul of this video store,” said Dwight. ” They won’t get the personalities, they won’t get us, and they have their own personalities at the library anyway. But they will get the archive which is huge.”
Based on the comments on the store’s Facebook page, it seems to be just the kind of endeavor that has allowed people to cast aside their feelings of grief and collectively work to save as much of the store’s reserve of movies as possible. Amidst the nostalgia and goodbyes, people have openly announce they have donated to save a specific title or ask if a given one has already been set aside.
Gentes said a day before closing that last check as many as five thousand titles have been purchased by Forbes. And despite its closing, the fundraising will continue through the end of the year through the website of Forbes and Pleasant Street Video. Now that is a happy ending.