I heard about Videomatica before I even lived here. Artsy in-the-know types were gushing about it during a 2002 visit – back before video-on-demand and iTunes and illegal downloads.
I don’t live anywhere near the place, but Videomatica has always been worth the trip across town – a trip I’ve made if not with great regularity, at least with great, work-related urgency. (I’m writing a story about Nikkatsu Action Cinema! Help!) I knew that no matter how obscure the film I needed, Videomatica would have it. I can’t think of a single occasion when it didn’t.
On Thursday, a few hours before I heard the place was closing, I was talking with friends about the death of video stores, prompted by news of Blockbuster’s receivership. I bemoaned the closing of the great Happy Bats Cinema on Main Street. When Videomatica closes, I said, we’ll know it’s really over for video stores.
“I always thought we’d be the last video store standing,” Videomatica co-owner Brian Bosworth said on Friday. “It’s kind of ironic that we’ll go out with Blockbuster.”
Mr. Bosworth, 58, said the “significant” decline in business at his Kitsilano shop began in 2008.
“After you bang your head against the wall enough times, you eventually get the message that you might want to stop.”
Mr. Bosworth co-founded Videomatica in 1983 with fellow UBC film grad Graham X Peat, now 59, when they couldn’t find the kinds of films they liked. “We opened up with 400 movies, the best movies available at the time that we wanted to watch.”
Today, the collection stands at 30,000 DVDs, 1,000 Blu-ray discs and 5,000 VHS tapes – everything from the 1926 silent film Aelita: Queen of Mars to the 1983 Hong Kong epic Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain.
Mr. Bosworth hopes to keep the collection intact and publicly accessible. He’s been talking to philanthropist Yosef Wosk about it.
“It’s a formidable collection, a record of film history,” said film critic and Vancity Theatre programmer Tom Charity. “People have the perhaps naive assumption that everything’s available online, and it’s just not true.”
Mr. Charity has checked out video stores all over the world – New York, Paris, London. “Videomatica is by far the best video store that I’ve visited anywhere,” he said. “It really is that good.”
So whither the others?
Business is down “a little bit” at Commercial Drive’s Black Dog Video, but it’s surviving. “I don’t see us going anywhere for a while,” said manager Joe Burgess. “We’re doing fine.”
I go to Black Dog a fair bit. I live in the neighbourhood, they have a great, eclectic selection, and have outlived other video stores on the Drive, most recently Alpha Video. I would be devastated if the place closed, even if, gasp, I am probably using video-on-demand more often these days than renting DVDs.
I’m not the only one, Mr. Burgess said. “We do get people who come in and say: ‘Do you have blah blah movie? I can’t find it to download anywhere.’ That’s their first option. But we also have a lot of hard-core customers who appreciate that we have the largest documentary and Japanese sections in the city.”
At Videomatica, Mr. Bosworth expects a flurry of nostalgia activity between now and when the store closes this summer. All those people who claim to love the place, but records indicate haven’t rented from there for years. People who might be kicking themselves now.