Saying Goodbye to One of the Last Great Independent Video Stores


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Saying Goodbye to One of the Last Great Independent Video Stores

Since Video Vision announced it was closing, customers have delivered chocolates and cards and some have even choked up at the front desk.

Video Vision and its famous murals of cool psychopaths. All photos by the author

This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.

On his 87th birthday, Leo Gaigals bought himself a berry cheesecake and delivered it to his only friends—the guys down the road at the last independent video store in Melbourne, Australia. Five days later, Video Vision would be dead.

In his 18 years visiting the shop, Gaigals had rented around 14,000 films, which the employees figured out by discovered looking up his records. "We're his family," says owner Eddie Stefani. "We do everything for him—whether it's go to the shops, ring up his doctor, fill in forms. Once we're gone, I don't know what he's going do. And he's just one of the many."


When the "For Lease" signs went up, Gaigals began buying lottery tickets, hoping to help keep the shop afloat. But with the rise of home-viewing options like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, Stefani can't afford to keep the store open and is shutting down on Wednesday, much to the dismay of the local community.

Craig Martin in his weekend castle.

"Everyone's really sad about it," weekend manager Craig Martin tells me over a slice of cake in his makeshift office in the storeroom, where desks are piled with papers and DVDs. Stefani sits behind his PC, doing the administrative work using the program VideoMinder, which holds the shop's 65,000 titles; one of the largest film collections in Australia.

"Up until two years ago even, the place was still jamming," says Stefani. But when Netflix was launched, rentals plummeted. Since closing was announced, customers have delivered chocolates and cards, and some have choked up at the front desk. One family, after hearing the news, even moved from their home in St Kilda, where the shop is located, to Caulfield North. "I never knew it had that effect on people," Stefani tells me.

A last photo of the Video Vision team

Over almost two decades of operation, Video Vision has been a favorite for film-buffs, families, drunks, and plenty of thieves. Martin recalls the time a drunk guy in a sailor suit had to be dissuaded from eating a six-year-old McDonald's burger and fries that sat infamously mold-free behind the front counter. Last year, a member of the staff accidentally knocked it to the floor, where it shattered like glass.


The desk where dreams were rented

There was the grandmother with a penchant for action films, the kid obsessed with Buffy and Smallville, and a guy who only ever rented American Pie films—the staff gave him the set as a parting gift. More than 100 copies of Chopper have been bought over the years to replace those stolen. (At a close second came any Guy Ritchie film and Napolean Dynamite.) The dumbest question the team have ever been asked: "How long is a weekly rental for?"

Probably one of more genuinely upsetting horror sections.

"I always wanted to have a 'shit' section," laughs Stefani, extolling the virtues of watching bad films "so you know what not to do." Part of the tragedy of the closure, adds Martin—who is also a college film-lecturer—is the fact that customers will no longer be exposed to films outside their usual range. On-demand services like Netflix create tunnel vision. The company utilizes an algorithm to determine users' taste and supply them with more of the same.

"Accessing stuff from home is this sort of alienated, atomized way of being, as opposed to going down to your local, asking questions, getting recommendations, and seeing stuff that you would never think about seeing," says Martin. "The way to keep your mind young is to not watch the same thing over and over again." He says the "diet of multiplex" means obscure and foreign films held by independent stores like Video Vision will disappear into the ether, as they can't be viewed with software like Netflix, and are usually otherwise only accessible as illegal downloads.


A very recent photo of the guys stripping everything out.

With this in mind, his parting recommendations are Bagdad Café, Another Woman, Wings of Desire, and The Swimmer. Stefani's are Les Diables, Aussie Park Boyz, and Straight Story.

Stefani looks stumped when I ask what he'll do next. "This! I'd like to do this! This is what I love, but it's gone."

The next tenant, a cleanskin wine store, plans to graft an entire wall with a photo of its previous incarnation.

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Goodbye friend.