Life

How the Internet Kills Great Neighbourhoods

As clicks replace human exchanges, Vancouver film emporium Videomatica is latest victim.

By Steve Burgess 20 May 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about the screen, big and small, every other Friday.

image atom
Victim of the digital invisible hand: Fourth Avenue icon. Photo: Beyond Robson.

Graham Peat is seeing some old friends lately. "There are many customers returning after long lapses to rent again," says the co-owner of Videomatica on West Fourth in Vancouver. "Maybe it's for nostalgic reasons, but we have had no end of tributes about what Videomatica meant to them."

Perhaps it's guilt -- lapsed customers returning to seek forgiveness and absolution for falling away, for not being there frequently enough to prevent the demise of a Vancouver landmark. Peat and business partner Brian Bosworth recently announced that the end is coming for Videomatica, the city's most treasured repository of classic film. No specific closure date has been named but Peat expects it will happen within a few months. For film buffs it's a little like hearing the Vancouver Public Library is shutting down.

There's a price to be paid for everything. Increasingly it seems the price of Internet convenience is being paid by the independent businesses that help give neighbourhoods character. Happy Bats Video, a lovingly appointed, goth-accented shrine to cinema on Vancouver's Main Street, suddenly tanked in March. And around the same time Videomatica announced its vague demise, the doors closed on another West Fourth gem -- independent book store Ardea Books, formerly Sitka Books, is now formerly Ardea Books as well.

Meanwhile over on Broadway the venerable Hollywood Theatre announced it too is not long for this retail coil.

One wishes the Internet could just kill off the porn theatres and leave the rest standing but that's not the way things work in the pitiless world of Adam Smith.

The Invisible Hand

It is natural for cities to reshape themselves as business models change. Feed stores, ice wagons and milk trucks have all been mourned in their turn. But it's hard to imagine anyone wearing black on the day the Invisible Hand sweeps away the cell phone stores and corporate cafes that infest our civic landscape now. The creeping sterility that long ago transformed Robson Street from a row of delis, grocery stores, and small businesses into a franchise farm has been succeeded by a new kind of retail extinction driven by Web-based giants like Netflix and Amazon.

Peat isn't surprised at the end of institutions like the Hollywood. "The recent demise of book stores, independent theatres, music stores and video stores seems completely predictable," he says. "Everyone loves them, but few frequent them."

The end of Videomatica comes as a particular shock, since the 30-year-old store is more than just a sentimental favourite. It has long represented the reliable fallback option for hard-to-find items. Local film buffs had the luxury of compiling mental lists of obscurities to be accessed at some future date -- perhaps Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo followed by the classic making-of documentary Burden of Dreams; perhaps Jean-Pierre Melville films like the 1955 classic Bob le Flambeur or 1969's Army of Shadows; perhaps TV favourites like the 1994 series My So-Called Life, or Brideshead Revisited, or old Partridge Family episodes. Whenever your heart's desire refused to show up on cable or online menus, you could simply say: "I'll get that from Videomatica sometime."

A different sort of library

The comparison to the Vancouver Public Library seems apt. And Peat says the suggestion of a government takeover has indeed been made. "I always used to joke that because we kept everything, and the public expected us to, we should become a government agency without the bureaucrats."

Videomatica's peerless library may yet remain intact. "Meetings with interested institutions have gone well," says Peat, "and we are hopeful that one of them will have a Videomatica resource library when the dust settles."

If some of the customers coming back to pay their respects to Videomatica these days have a sheepish and remorseful look to them, it's not necessary. Peat doesn't judge. He's just happy to see old friends, for awhile at least. "We love hearing stories that go back to the prehistoric days of VHS," he says. "Makes you want to rewind a tape for old times sake."  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

What can’t you believe the BC Liberals are now supporting?

Take this week's poll