The demise of video rental stores has been a long and agonizing march over the past two decades, making the nostalgic sting more potent while raising appreciation for the few remaining companies that have carried the torch.
The Philadelphia area will be saying goodbye to its last movie rental refuge this summer with Viva Video’s impending closure! The Last Picture Store, which occupies a space at 16 W. Lancaster Ave. at Ardmore since 2012.
The store shared a heartfelt post on Instagram regarding the decision to close. The business was renting monthly and just couldn’t afford the amount another tenant was willing to pay for the space, owner Miguel Gomez told PhillyVoice.
âOur run has been unlikely, wonderful, difficult, emotional and unique,â ââsaid Viva Video’s Instagram post, thanking customers for creating a sense of community among moviegoers. âIt has always been more than just a business for us, and the way so many of you have contributed to this wonderful film community has proven that we have been more than a business to you. You have kept us vital. You kept us engaged. You made us want to live up to what you deserved. You kept us alive, and we remain eternally grateful for your contributions, persistence and friendship.
The store will remain open for rental until July before selling a large part of its collection of nearly 20,000 films, including some rather rare DVDs and Blu-rays.
âWe’ve got a ton of stuff – and stuff that’s worth hundreds of dollars,â Gomez said. “There will be price points. A lot of things will just be cleared to get rid of it. Some of our cult foreign and late night movies and collectibles will not be charged at customs clearance, but it will still be a good deal. compared to buying online. “
For the rest of July, at least, Viva Video plans to focus on screenings as the store bids farewell to its community.
“There is an alley next to our store where we would show movies on the wall, and we plan to make a bunch of them, and let each staff member have a night to make a choice and say goodbye to the community through a movie that they think is important to movie history, or what they think is fun in movies. “
Gomez was suspicious of his own choices, but said one could be a silent movie with a live-action score that isn’t traditionally seen that way. Another could be a ‘retouched’ action film which he says ironically could be a long lost French detective film.
Gomez’s adoration and knowledge of film history are contagious. He realizes that his nine years at the helm of Viva Video have been a special experience.
âHaving a video store these days is to some extent an indulgence,â Gomez said. “I see no reason not to satisfy my cravings until the last minute with some offbeat projections that I want to do.”
Gomez isn’t joking about the dying breed of the video rental store. Since 2000, they have fallen from around 27,800 in the United States to less than 2,000, a number that will continue to decline with the closure of Family Video, the last remaining rental channel in the country. Blockbusters and Hollywood videos of the world have given way to the ubiquity of streaming platforms. Redbox’s vending machines offer a faint reminder of what it used to be to search for a physical copy of something to watch without owning it.
Even the birth of Viva Video was aided by the closing of other video stores, as Gomez was able to recoup some of their rarities on sale. And some stores simply showed solidarity, like Baltimore’s Video American, which operated for 30 years before it closed. Owner Barry Solan not only invited Gomez to help store his budding Viva Video collection, but Solan’s business also planted the seeds for the nonprofit Beyond Video which has since flourished in Baltimore.
âI actually got a ton of Video American rarities,â Gomez said. “They actually called me when we opened because they were so excited someone was going to open a store.”
If anyone else wants to take on the role of Viva Video in the Philly area, they’ll definitely have what’s left of the industry stuck. Gomez was not aware of any other movie rental store outside of Beyond Video, which actually functions more like a library.
âI don’t know of any other,â Gomez said.
The 42-year-old store owner is also a nurse at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. One of the sad aspects of the Viva Video shutdown is that he mainly had to stay away from the store during the coronavirus pandemic until he was vaccinated. He wanted to protect his staff from exposure to COVID-19, and Gomez said it had been years since he received a paycheck from Viva Video to ensure it remained open while ‘he was supporting his medical career.
He said his experience as a nurse on the COVID floor during the pandemic was brutal, but necessary, work.
âIt’s as miserable as anyone else’s experience,â Gomez said. “It’s heartbreaking, you know? I’ve seen a lot more deaths than I signed up for and a lot of people you just couldn’t help. I’ve been a nurse for four years and I’m not a nurse. in palliative care It’s not where my interests lie, but I feel like everyone must have been much better in the face of death.
âI held the hands of people with no family allowed to be there when they passed away. Death is sad, but the way not everyone was around their loved ones – it’s hard. certainly traumatic in a lot of ways, but I felt like I was doing something important and happy to be doing it. “
Viva Video plans to keep its social media channels active to “send transmissions” and eventually maintain some sort of community online, potentially with a podcast if there is interest and organization behind it. For now, Gomez and his team are focused on the whirlwind of shutting down a business that’s been around for nearly a decade.
And with the shutdown looming, Gomez is yet to know how he will channel his love of cinema into a post-Viva Video, post-pandemic world.
“This is one of the hardest parts for me. I’m at least a self-identified film expert and having a store gives me an air of authority which has been really nice,” Gomez said. âNot having that is going to be very weird for me. But Philly has a lot of great movies that I’ve always enjoyed. Exhumed Films did awesome stuff. International House, when they were there, did awesome stuff. PhilaMOCA the would do some really cool stuff. I’m still planning on doing that stuff. “
Stay tuned to Viva Video’s social media channels for updates on the showings and the August clearance sale.