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Internet killed the video store

Date: 9/27/2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

I'm suffering from a bit of post-primary fatigue. I'm tired of politics right now. I need to watch a movie.

So the other night, I was standing in line to rent a movie from a Red Box near my house, but after about 15 minutes I gave up.

I had no problem with the people ahead of me who were clicking through the touch screen to see what movies were available. They were taking their time and that's their right, but I miss the day of going into a video store, walking up and down past the new release and seeing what was available.

It was quicker. It was better. It was more human.

Yes, I belong to Netflix and I do like it, but again, I spend a lot of time browsing, more than what I used to spend.

Then it occurred to me: I miss video stores with posters, standees, inflated things hanging from the ceiling and video boxes that glowed or made some sort of noise.

I miss being able to banter with a clerk about a film being good or bad. I miss being able to buy a used movie poster, a box of Goobers and a bottle of Coke at the same time.

I miss watching the vaguely guilty looking guys doing a version of the perp walk on their way back from the adult movie room.

I miss the little bit of showmanship a video store represented.

Actually, I lament the near death coma that showmanship and ballyhoo throughout our society suffers from.

Though I'm no Luddite, all of the viral social media marketing the cool kids yammer about don't hold a candle to old-fashioned promotion. Selling a product or a record or a movie used to be a real effort that often involved personal appearances, gimmicks, stunts, paid advertisements there's a thought and much more.

Remember when a musical group would actually tour to support a record? Of course, today there are far fewer venues for live music than there were 30 or 40 years ago. Club owners are less willing to take a chance and present new acts and build an audience.

It's a personal, human touch.

Perhaps that's why I'm drawn to the Big E. I love watching the salespeople introduce a product to a crowd. I enjoy hearing the carefully written pitch to draw people in and the conclusion that compels them to buy.

I'm excited to see a product demonstrated in front of you and actually doing what the pitchman says it would do. There is a personal connection that is hard to accomplish in an e-mail blast or a page on Facebook.

In an era of chain stores, there are not very many of those single store owners who want to be the face for their company. Theater owners used to revel in being showmen, doing things to attract people to their theaters. They would actually compete. Today, the bosses of the large corporate theaters don't worry much about showmanship.

They stick a poster up in a frame somewhere, run a preview and hope the free publicity afforded by reviews, interviews and articles draw in a crowd.

We seem to be living in an era when companies don't care about wooing us. They are not as concerned about competition as they once were. If they are simply in the right spot with their goods or services and offering those at an acceptable price point, that seems good enough now.

Perhaps the lack of competition in some business categories account for it. Perhaps the old fashioned, more personalized approach is seen as corny or too expensive or too labor intensive.

Or perhaps I'm just a product of my time and I like that personal approach the wink and a nudge and a free sample technique that worked so well for many generations. It just doesn't seem to be as effective and fun when it's virtual.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.