After 17 years in business, Burlington's last dedicated video-rental store will close its doors at the end of the business day on Tuesday, April 30.
Store buyer and curator Seth Jarvis explains that "We are closing due to a confluence of circumstances — most notably the passing of Waterfront Video's owner and patron saint, Murray Self — as well as significant changes within the industry."
To newcomers to the Queen City, it may come as a surprise that Burlington has a video store, much less a video store that carries as many art-house flicks and documentaries as blockbusters.
Somehow this local business outlasted the Blockbuster chain, even as research firm IBIS World declared video rentals a "dying industry" (along with newspaper publishing, for the record) and even Netflix tried to exit the physical DVD rental business.
Old-timers know how the store held on to its loyal customers.
When it opened in late 1996 in a spacious spot on Battery Street (now home to April Cornell), Waterfront really did have a waterfront view. (In 2005, it would move to 370 Shelburne Street but keep its moniker.) Customers could watch fireworks over the lake as they browsed the Directors section for the complete works of Stanley Kubrick or John Waters.
Unlike the late Blockbuster, which mostly rented, well, blockbusters, Waterfront is a store for people who don't just watch movies but obsess over them. It has sections with names like Cheese Parade and Martial Arts & Mayhem. It has carefully curated shelves of titles linked to movies currently in theaters; and a rotating In Memoriam section honoring recently deceased actors, directors, even cinematographers. You could get an education in film just by browsing these shelves.
And, because the store held on to its collection of VHS tapes long after that medium was declared dead, you could take a trip into nostalgia country, revisiting the pre-DVD era when just being able to watch movies at home felt pretty awesome.
What's going to happen to all those tapes and DVDs? "The entire collection is being sold to a local, family-owned business," Jarvis says. No word yet on what that business will do with them.
Read my 2008 interview with Jarvis here, in which he talks about weathering changes in the industry. At that point, people who streamed movies instantly were early adopters.
What a difference five years make.
Now, those of us who obsess over movies and TV have to hope that Netflix and other services don't drop their voluminous DVD catalogs, or that everything eventually becomes available for legal streaming. Right now, plenty is not, from premium-cable shows such as "Girls" and "Game of Thrones" to classics like Casablanca to the new arty Wuthering Heights adaptation that never played local theaters. For rentals like that, we could go to Waterfront — until now.
More importantly, we're losing one of the cool businesses that make Burlington Burlington. And there's no wacky, waffle-loving idealist like Leslie Knope on our city council to bail it out.
Waterfront currently has six employees.
"We're very appreciative of the support and loyalty our customers and the community have shown us over the years," Jarvis says.
So, greater Burlington, return those discs in a timely manner. Be kind, rewind (if you still have something to rewind). And take a minute to think about all the good stuff you rented from video stores over the years.
File photo of Seth Jarvis at Waterfront Video by Jordan Silverman.