Bowery Boogie has faithfully covered a sad saga in my neighborhood: the imminent closing of our local video rental store, Cinema Nolita. (Even the Times has chimed in with lamentations.) Formerly in a tiny, exposed-brick sliver of a storefront on Elizabeth, for the last year and a half or so the store has occupied much roomier digs on Mulberry, between Broome and Kenmare. Not quite Nolita, but whatever — we don’t dig real estate broker neologisms anyway, and a store this quaint makes the “Nolita” seem kind of ironic to boot. The new location should have been good for the store, but apparently the customer base didn’t expand as much as hoped. They’ve been in business only for seven years but have the feel of a community mainstay nonetheless, at least for those of us who make several trips there a week. (They have over 8,000 members on record.)
Cinema Nolita is one of the last of a dying breed: a video store that not only still stocks plenty of VHS tapes (much to the delight of my 13-year-old daughter, who has a huge case of technological nostalgia) but has a large and varied DVD collection that leans toward classics and foreign while still covering all the requisite new release bases. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s the kind of store where knowledgable employees remember your name and call up your membership before you get to the counter, and where they remember your rental history and taste and may even warn you away from a turkey — though they’ll not sneer at your guilty pleasures or shame you if you have to ask who directed what (since many films are filed by director’s last name). They screen cult favorites late on weekend nights, sometimes with directors present, always with cheap beer. Staff members produced hand-made posters for these films to display in the front window.
When Cinema Nolita loses its spot on Mulberry this month — which seems to be a foregone conclusion — it will be the first time since the early 1980s that I haven’t had a video rental store at least a bike’s ride from my house. And though I’m guilty, like many, of shelling out my monthly $16 to Netflix, those little red envelopes have never replaced the need for a local store. Your queue rarely matches your mood, for one thing, or a desire for instant gratification (last night I wanted to see Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals, for instance, which I brought home on VHS) might not even be able to find fulfillment in streaming options.
And in addition to a knowledgable, friendly, human staff, there are other things Netflix will never replace, just like Amazon — for all the wonders of one-click used book shopping — will never completely replace the emotional experience of a bookstore. Browsing. Real time. Handling objects. Reading jacket blurbs. Discovering something you never knew existed, or being reminded of your favorite filmgoing experiences of the past and returning to them on a whim. Overhearing someone else’s conversation about what they’ll rent, or seeing a bit of something on the store screen while you wait in line, and making a note to check it out later.
Cinema Nolita seems to be about $8K in the hole. The “Store for Rent” sign in the window is down, but I’m taking that to mean the space will have a new tenant soon. The owner and staff had originally announced a fire sale on the collection, but rethought that plan and now hope to keep their library together — perhaps to find a new space, perhaps a new business model. They want, above all, to maintain a presence in a neighborhood community they’ve helped to organize.
How to give back? Anthology Film Archives will be hosting a benefit screening, TONIGHT (8/15) at 10 pm, of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992), starring Harvey Keitel, with Ferrara director present for discussion and Q&A. If this event goes well, we’re told, there may be another Ferrara event in store next weekend. $15 donation. “Abel uses the video store as his library,” says one store employee. “He’s been
such an advocate of saving the shop, and he said, ‘Anything I can do to
help in any way. We’ve gotta save this shop, you know, man, we’ve gotta
save it.’” She admits Ferrara has been known to keep films out well
past their due date, but “by doing these screenings he’s essentially
paying his late fees.”
Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10003
Also, on Monday (8/17), neighborhood hotspot Santos Party House will host a musical extravaganza to benefit the store. The Beets and The Virgins
will play, followed by an Animal Collective DJ Set featuring
Avey Tare, Geologist, and Deakin. $20 donation, doors @ 8 pm.
Santos Party House
100 Lafayette St
New York, NY 10013
PLUS: You can donate to the store directly from its website — or drop by and drop off a check!
Photo from Bowery Boogie’s Flickr pool.