adieu Waterfront Video…

I haven’t been attached to a great many stores in my life but have been realizing over the past couple of weeks how much I will be missing Waterfront Video, which closed its doors on April 30 after nearly 17 years in business – I’d been a customer for the past six of those. (I unthinkingly began to link to their website just now, then remembered that of course it wouldn’t still be up, except that it turns out it is – which is even sadder…)

Waterfront made it far longer than most video stores in the country, in part due to the willingness of its owner to keep it going no matter what, and in part because it was quite special. It had a stock of something like 30,000 videos, a great many of which will never find their way into Netflix: all kinds of foreign, older, obscure, quirky titles that were always a pleasure to browse through no matter how many hundreds of times I’d been in the store. And the staff were the best – always cheerful, always happy to talk about movies.

Its loss has reminded me yet again of how relentless is the internet’s whittling away of physical, ie real, community. Since I happen to live alone, some nights a visit down there served an added function of connecting with the world in a small way, having a chat with the folks behind the counter, seeing what was new.

Netflix just ain’t the same, at all… They do their best and my queues aren’t going to run low anytime soon, but again, there will never be anything close to the selection of less popular films available there, with the streaming catalog being of course even more limited. One of the best things about Waterfront was that if at 9:00 you suddenly remembered a movie you really wanted to see, you could go down there and more often than not pick it up, having it back home ten minutes later. And with their 4-for-3, five-day-rental deal, you could bring back a varied selection in case your first impulse didn’t grab you. But in that situation now, if Netflix hasn’t got it on streaming – and the chances aren’t very good that it will – you’re out of luck. So even at the level of convenience, which is what online commerce is supposed to be all about, it’s a serious loss.

Who knows, maybe one day specialist providers might appear and over time build up eclectic collections of film that might come (somewhat) close to matching Waterfront Video. But even so they can never replace the experience of being in a real-live space, surrounded by real-live people, being able to browse through real-live video covers. My very last batch of four included films by Kieslowski, Jarmusch, Howard Hawks, and Ozu – none of which, and in fact probably none or almost none of whose films at all – are available on Netflix streaming. Sure, having to pay late fees sucked, but mainly because I was just too disorganized to get things back in time…

I was also really saddened to read in the Seven Days article of the loss of George Holoch, who’d worked at Waterfront almost from the beginning. He was an award-winning translator of French, with numerous books to his credit, and a nice man to chat with when I happened to be in there during the day, which was rare. My memory is of him reading The New York Review of Books with a late Beethoven Quartet playing over the speakers.

So another loss to “progress.” It’s going to take probably a few months before the thought stops popping into my head at 9 or 10 at night: hmm, maybe I should pick up Wings of Desire, just in case I feel like putting it on later, or see what’s just come in… Adieu Waterfront.