End of an era: Video store moo-ving out.

It was over a quarter of a century ago that I went to a video store in Brooklyn and rented a cassette with a movie on it. The film? The 1982 remake of “Cat People” with Malcolm McDowell, Nastassja Kinski, and Ruby Dee. (Yes, even then cats seemed to rule my life.) I had just carted a videocassette player up the stairs to my apartment and my fiancée – now my wife – and I were amazed at the idea that we were about to watch a movie on a television set on our schedule and without commercial interruption.

And when I say “amazed,” that’s not hyperbole. We popped popcorn. I took the phone off the hook. We turned out the lights. This was a big deal.

A lot has changed since the Mesozoic era of videocassettes. Back then, owners of movie theaters worried that the big screen cinema experience was endangered. Nope. The big screens are doing just fine. It was videocassettes that were done in by DVDs which, in turn, will soon grow extinct.

The latest casualty in the transition to digital video entertainment is a movie rental store in Bristol called Moovies. The name has two “o”s, because this is Vermont, a very small state in terms of population, and so it was important to appeal to cows as well as humans.

Last week, after 23 years in the Addison County village, Moovies shut its door for the last time. Owner David Zullo, who also owns The Marine Collection boat store in South Burlington, said that the business has been declining steadily since 2003 and the store has been losing money for years now. There was a time when Bristol had two video stores competing across the street from one another. Now there are none.

Of course, Bristol also used to have a bookstore. That’s gone, too.

Zullo was troubled by the job losses that would result from shuttering the store and contemplated turning the enterprise over to his employees. “But giving them a store that was losing $2,000 a month didn’t seem a good gift,” Zullo said.

Now, Moovies isn’t the only film store to have been done in by cable, movies on demand, the Redbox dollar-a-night DVD rental kiosks, and digital video on computers. Even monster chains like Blockbuster wonder how much longer they can survive, at least in their current incarnations. But Zullo worries that the demise of Moovies means there is a loss of yet one more spot on the globe where people once interacted. “For a while, video stores were community-based. People would run into each other on Friday nights and that socialization – that connection – is lost when you get your movies on-line or through the mail,” Zullo suggested.

His store manager, Amanda DeMilt, added, “A lot of people would come in to the store with their kids and get a pizza and pick up a video. It was like a family night.  They loved to look at the covers together. And since we closed, a few parents have told me that their kids were really sad. For a while, the store was an exciting place for kids to come and browse.”

I know what Zullo and DeMilt mean. We all do. We’ve all run into neighbors at video stores and shared our opinions about films, just as we have run into people at bookstores and shared our enthusiasm about a particular book.

But my sense is that people are very social creatures. At least that’s what I hope. Sure, we need our moments alone in our living rooms with popcorn and family and a movie we’ve downloaded; but we also need those moments with other people – strangers and friends – and a screen the size of a barn wall. We may download books to our digital readers, but we still love a good bookstore. And, yes, we may get our music a song at a time for our iPods, but the concert business is booming, too.

I am sad to say good-bye to Moovies and I am grateful to Zullo and DeMilt for keeping it open as long as they did.

And now I am interested to see what will come next.

(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on March 28, 2010.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.