Going to the video store is, after all, a hands-on experience. For those whose memories extend back before the era of Netflix, the sheer kinesthetic involvement of renting a movie requires a certain level of commitment. Not just to movies, or even to the customer-service interaction, but to a dying medium.
Videoscope, located at 2290 W. El Camino Real, is the latest victim, following in the footsteps of video rental franchises Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. While outliving local competitors, years of steadily decreasing revenues followed by a proposed rent increase have convinced owners Nona and Odon Sy to shut down operations at the end of this month.
The closing is tentatively set for June 22.
This news came as a huge blow to the store's fiercely loyal customer base. "Technology has killed another time-honored institution," says longtime customer Kathy Graham.
Graham first visited the store in 1982, the year of Videoscope's inception, at its original Palo Alto location. Nona Sy was a Filipino emigre with a collection of 50 horror films on VHS, years before cassettes had fully reached American homes.
"I told my husband, 'Why don't we open a store and make them available to all people?'" Sy said. "We bought everything over the years. We own every one of these tapes."
The store moved to Los Altos in 1996 and to Mountain View in 2002. As the collection of titles expanded to the thousands, operations within the store grew to include Sy's husband, Odon, who had been let go from his job as an engineer. For the next three decades, the couple set about spreading the joy of cinema in the form of VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD rentals.
"Those were very good years," Odon says. "Fantastic years."
It was not built to last, according to Odon. Although the business achieved local notoriety for its extensive LaserDisc collection, the large, record-shape disc never really replaced the success of the VHS. When the smaller, higher-resolution DVD was introduced, Odon says, "The studios loved it."
Immediately, the LaserDisc was killed, a decision that had two consequences. First, it set a precedent by which a cinematic medium can be swiftly eliminated. Second, the DVD was digital, meaning it can be copied illegally.
"Everything is copied, uploaded, downloaded," Odon says. "Studios are financially strapped right now; budgets are getting smaller and smaller, and it's hitting everybody."
Streaming video offered a financial solution for the industry. Hollywood effectively eliminates the middleman while regaining control over how, and to whom, movies are distributed.
"Many of our customers want us to try our best to continue, to keep on going," Odon says. "We are closing because we cannot fight it."
Now, the family is selling off its personal collection of films, which has since grown to 20,000 VHS, 20,000 DVDs, and 10,000 LaserDiscs. Customers new and old have been trickling in, either to explore it for the first time, or to have last conversations with their friends behind the counter.
"There's nothing left like this," a customer says, walking out of the store. "Now, it's just houses."
"We just feel like we are lucky," Nona says. "We were there when it was a novelty, and we lasted this long. It's sad, but it's time to say goodbye."
"I cannot retire," Odon says. "I'll be looking for things. I still don't know what's out there."