When I was in elementary school, Mom took my brother and me to the video store down the street from our house every Friday.
Walking into that old, claustrophobic shop meant entering a menagerie of stories: Each small, colorful box on display promised of its own, unique adventure. And there were aisles of them.
Andy, my brother, and I often argued over what movie we should rent — a debate Mom would silence by saying we could each pick one out. Then we’d go our separate ways: he to the sci-fi section and I to the thrillers — God forbid we try to peak into the “adults only” area along the way.
I know I’m not the only one to have participated in this American tradition, but as the years go by, the number of young people who have rented movies from a store — as well as the number of stores themselves — has decreased considerably…
For San Luis Obispo, it began when local indie favorite Insomniac Video went to sleep in 2008.
San Luis Obispo then lost its Hollywood Video, once located on Foothill Boulevard near Pita Pit, in 2010, due to the store’s parent company going bankrupt.
Most recently, in 2011, Blockbuster on Madonna Road closed its doors permanently as well.
Newer services such as Netflix, Redbox and online streaming seem to have rendered video stores all but obsolete.
But in San Luis Obispo, two flames of hope for the movie rental industry burn on.
One of them is Crossroads Video.
Since 1993, Crossroads Video has provided a wide selection of different kinds of films, as well as personalized recommendations for customers, owner Diane Tomkins said.
“It’s kind of like a big family,” Tomkins said. “We connect with everybody.”
One way Crossroads Video’s staff connects with its clientele is by making them feel at home, Tomkins said.
In addition to offering movies, audiobooks and video games for rent, Crossroads Video occasionally sells homemade brownies, and is usually dressed for the season. The store is currently decorated with fall-colored leaves, plastic jack-o-lanterns and other reminders that October has arrived.
Another way the staff connects with customers is by knowing who they are. Questions to movie renters such as “Are you still working at the high school?” and “How’s the knee?” indicate that repeat customers don’t go unnoticed at Crossroads Video.
San Luis Obispo resident Lisa McCann said she rented from Crossroads Video even when Blockbuster was in town.
“All the people (at Crossroads Video) seem to have good opinions and good suggestions,” McCann said. “If I wasn’t sure (what I wanted to rent), I could ask for a recommendation.”
Seeing loyal patrons such as McCann keeps morale high for the Crossroads Video staff, Tomkins said.
“They’re rooting that we don’t go under,” she said.
As for garnering new customers, the Crossroads Video staff is reaching out through Facebook and offering monthly promotional deals.
They’re also hoping for bad weather.
“Pray that it rains,” Tomkins said, referring to the fact rainy days are some of the store’s busiest.
Though Crossroads Video has been around long enough to cater to multiple generations of certain families, its location — at the intersection of Broad Street and Orcutt Road — is far from the epicenter of the city’s student population.
However, San Luis Obispo’s other remaining video store, 22-year-old Studio Video, isn’t too far from Cal Poly’s campus, located off of Foothill Boulevard near SLO Donut Company.
According to Studio Video owner Kenny Kim, more than half of the store’s customers are students, and they usually want to rent comedies.
“Students have a lot of studying to do,” Kim said. “(In their spare time), they just want to laugh, to watch a comedy.”
For those less interested in slapstick flicks, Studio Video also carries several foreign, documentary, action, classic and family titles.
But Kim, who has screened many of his store’s approximately 20,000 movies before buying them, said he values one genre above all others: drama.
“Drama makes you cry and think about life,” he said. “After the teardrops dry, you can see clearly and see life from a different view.”
Kim said a passion for film is necessary to work in the video store business, which is not his main source of income.
“If you don’t like movies, you can’t be in this business,” he said. “It’s not for money. If you’re looking for money, you should do something else.”