Stepping into Video Adventure is like stepping into a perfectly preserved piece of the past. An Evanston movie rental institution since 1982, it stands in the middle of the Central Street business district. It’s unassuming but still alive, even in the era of instant play and DVR.
The storefront windows boast posters of the latest Oscar winners, all a tad faded from constant sun exposure. The inside is just what you’d expect, though you might not expect it to still be in business: shelves upon shelves of comedies, horrors and dramas. Television screens play the same film in a halo around the room.
“The worst thing about working here is trying to pick what goes on the TVs,” Manager Larry Maday says. After eight years at Video Adventure, he’s seen quite a few of the films he fits on to those shelves. “On days when I don’t have a plan of what I’m going to watch, I could spend up to four hours just roaming the store looking for something to play. It’s that bad.”
Speaking with Maday, I’m a little nervous to bring up Netflix, for fear I might offend his video store sensibilities. With more than 20,000 titles available on Netflix and even more floating around on the Internet, going to the video store, mulling around the aisles and picking a movie to rent for one to three days seems like an ancient ritual soon only to be read about in textbooks. And after the death of video rental behemoth Blockbuster, it’s all too easy to assume the same future must be in store for Video Adventure.
“People keep asking me if Netflix has hurt our business and to be honest, it hasn’t done too much to it,” Maday says. “It’s a nice model but it’s not the video store, and I think a lot of people have gotten used to it.” He pauses and adds, “But 25 years down the line, this is probably going to be a relic of the past.”
While Netflix may not be hurting Video Adventure as a whole, technology does affect one part of its business model.
“The Internet is killing the adult-only video section,” Maday says after I inquire about the closed door at the back of the store. “It’s not going to be around much longer. People can be very shy about it. They’ll go in there and peek out to make sure no one is in the store and then they’ll boltout of the store with the copy so that they don’t get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. And now with the Internet they don’t have to worry anymore.”
He continues, saying the “younger generation” will continue to use the Internet to make their lives easier, even if that means the end for Video Adventure.
“College kids are very resourceful,” he says, reminiscing about his own college days. “Honestly, if you’re not working and you’re on a fixed income and you still want to have a life while you’re in college, cut corners as much as you can.”
A woman wandering around the store since I arrived looks for a film for her 10-year-old son’s sleepover. Occasionally she asks about violence, language and sex to make sure she eliminates all questionable material from the list. She decides to rent three different titles. Before she leaves, she asks a question I’m sure has been asked many times before.
“You ... aren’t going out of business, are you?”
Maday quickly responds with a grin. “Well, you did just give me $14.”