Santa Fe’s only remaining video rental shop not ready to press pause

April 14, 2019

More than 16,000 titles line the shelves of Video Library. From cult classics like Harold and Maude and foreign features like the French film Amélie to obscure food documentaries, indie horror flicks and slashers à la the 1978 Halloween — the city’s only remaining video rental shop has it all.

But with a rampant increase in online streaming services, which has forced a majority of movie rental stores out of business nationwide, staff at Video Library say the future of the shop is uncertain.

In January, after reaching a point of desperation, co-founder Lisa Harris decided to launch a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to keep the store going.

So far, she said, the store has received more than $13,500 in donations through the online campaign and in-store contributions. The goal, she said, is to raise $60,000, which would at least help keep the business’s doors open through the end of 2020.

While the struggles of the nearly four-decade-old shop are unsettling, Harris said, she continues to remain hopeful, holding the belief that Video Library is more than just a brick-and-mortar store packed with eclectic flicks: “It’s a family.”

“This sounds kid of hokey, but it’s kind of like Cheers, where everybody knows your name,” Harris said, referring to the NBC sitcom. “I’ve had customers who’ve walked in teenagers. … Now their children rent from me with babies in their arms. It’s an amazing arc of life that appears in front of me.”

Harris and her husband, Casey St. Charnez, first opened Video Library in 1981 at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road. By the early 1990s, Harris said, they had multiple locations spread across the city; there were another dozen video rental stores in operation in Santa Fe at the time.

“Through the ’80s and ’90s, video stores were everywhere,” she said, taking pride in the fact that Video Library was Santa Fe’s first.

In 1989, the store moved downtown to Marcy Street, next door to the Main Library, where it remained for about 20 years before landing at its current location on Paseo de Peralta, behind Travel Bug and next to the Mucho Gusto restaurant.

The business saw a shift from VHS tapes to DVDs, and then Blu-Ray discs. Finally, the store took a blow from online streaming services for movies and TV series.

The customer base has dwindled.

Harris remembers the steady stream of renters who crowded the store about 30 years ago; today, hours may pass without a single customer.

“Back in the day … you could easily make over $3,000 in a weekend,” she said.

Now, with increasing costs to lease space for the store, staff salaries and insurance — not to mention keeping an inventory of new movie releases every week — Harris said she’s had to consider closing the shop at least twice in the last three years. January was one of those times.

Just as she thought of giving up, Harris said, she learned about a trend in which video rental shops around the country were using online campaigns to help raise money. On Jan. 6, she launched a GoFundMe account — Video Library’s final chance.

In addition to donating to the campaign, Harris said, folks have volunteered time to help brainstorm fundraising ideas and have purchased ads to run in various publications.

The greatest outcome of the GoFundMe page, however, is that it’s served as a reminder to people in the community that the store is still operating and depends on patrons to stay alive.

“Every day, people say, ‘Thank you for staying open,’ or ‘Please, please, please don’t close,’ ” Harris said.

“Because we’ve been here so long … people assume we’ll always be here,” she added. “But you have to come in if you want it to last.”

While there’s a chance that DVDs and VHS tapes will make a comeback similar to vintage clothes and vinyl records, Harris said, her focus right now is remaining a competitor with streaming.

Many people argue that online platforms are a more affordable and convenient option than rental stores. Those at Video Library say, however, that a knowledgeable staff and friendly community far outweigh the perks of services like Hulu or Netflix.

And the quality of streaming services is lacking, some argue, with limited selections.

“It’s becoming a curated experience,” said Luke Henley, a former Video Library customer who is now an employee. He noted it’s nearly impossible to find obscure films online. “It’s a shame because if places like this weren’t here, [streaming services would] be their only source” of films, and people would miss out on a wide range of cult classics and other hard-to-find movies.

Meanwhile, at Video Library, he said, customers come in searching for a specific title, thinking, “They couldn’t possibly have this.”

Staff members say, “Of course we do; we’ve got three copies,” Henley said.

On a recent Thursday — when the library offers a three-for-$7 deal — Kit Baum, who dubs himself the store’s “most regular renter,” collected a diverse selection of movies: Stop Making Sense, a 1984 film about the band Talking Heads; Equus, a PBS documentary series about horses; and Mary Poppins Returns, a 2018 sequel to the classic Mary Poppins featuring Emily Blunt.

One couple returned Ben is Back, a new Julia Roberts drama that follows the life of a mother trying to help a son with substance use disorder. Another woman sifted through foreign film noir selections, particularly in the Scandinavian section. And Steven Landrum popped in with his two dogs, Zeak and Luther, just to say hello.

Customers say there’s something special about Video Library.

“It’s a for-real place. It’s homey,” said Landrum, 53, who’s rented movies from the business since he was in his 20s.

“This is a place that can never leave,” agreed Baum, who frequents the store about four times a week and has been a customer for more than 25 years.

Though several customers admitted they’ve tried streaming services, they said it’s not the same as renting from Video Library.

“It just didn’t work. I needed that one-on-one,” Baum said.

“I prefer people. … Technology can’t ruin everything,” said Anne Baylor, who rents every Wednesday or Thursday.

It’s the social aspect and community feel that keeps Harris holding on.

“That’s why we fight to keep this place open,” she said. “We’re social beings who need community. Sometimes computer screens make us forget it.”

How to help

• Visit Video Library’s GoFundMe page at GoFundMe.com/save-the-vid

If you go

What: Video Library is home to over 16,000 films for rent. Customers must be over 18, are required to show a photo ID and current credit card and must provide a local street address and phone number. Video Library does not rent out VCR players or DVD players, so renters must make sure they have compatible devices for the rental format.

When: The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Each day, it offers a different rental deal.

Where: 839 Paseo de Peralta.