April 30th was a sad day for Detroit film buffs. Thomas Video (allegedly the first video store in the USA) announced that they are closing their doors after 40 years. The Clawson institution was not just another Blockbuster or Family Video franchise, but a true Aladdin’s cave of cinematic wonder.
Obviously, living on another continent, I was not often able to take advantage of the selection or expertise on offer (and thus added to reason that they are going out of business, which makes me feel rather guilty). But on my visits here, I did venture in, and in the process, introduced Scorsese Husband to Cinema Paradiso and the works of Douglas Sirk. The guys working there never said ‘no, we don’t have it’, because not only did they have it, but usually in multiple formats (even laserdisk!) and each rental always came with a opinion or a recommendation. It was like going into the nerdiest of record or comic book stores but finding the employees refreshingly un-douchey.
They are currently selling off their stock. Think of the possibilities! Think of the memories…It must be very hard for the owners and assistants to watch this place close, especially since it was not just a place of work, but a labour of love. Going through the inventory of cult classics, rarities, slasher-fests, anime collectibles, foreign masterpieces and documentaries must stir the emotions in a very bittersweet way.
Some of the Yelp comments from loyal customers have suggested that the staff should start a podcast, and I for one would definitely tune in to hear what these guys have to say. Please, please, pretty please?
Alas, the closure of Thomas Video hasn’t come as a surprise, sad as it is. I often wondered how they kept going over the years as other video stores folded. I just assumed that the specialised indie nature of Thomas Video brought something to the table that the big franchises couldn’t manage, even after the onslaught of digital film downloads.
This got me thinking about the demise of the video store as a whole and the passage of time and technology. Back in the day, every video store was a Thomas Video-style treasure trove. And every locality had one. Back in the 80s when I was wee, we even had one in our village, and there was another in the next village and so forth. Oh, how I remember trotting down the road with my mum and brother on Saturday mornings to see what was available. Repeat rentals of Dungeons and Dragons, The Dark Crystal, You Ruined My Life and Lots of Luck informed my early viewing habits. Sometimes I’d run across a browsing school frenemy who knew what I was after and snatched it up before I could reach. Bitch…
After the village video store closed, we became members of the Ritz store in Bilton (later a Blockbuster). This is the store that Thomas reminds me of. It seemed they had every film in existence. And in an odd quirk of organisation, you had to go through the horror and porn sections in order to get to the children’s ‘cave’. These journeys scared the hell out of me. But they also furtively peaked my interest. The selection of 80s video nasties was expansive. Here I used to take the Nightmare on Elm Street series off the child-height shelves to read the blurbs before my mother snatched them off me. Basket Case was another I remember as was Leprechaun, and every single Hitchcock film neatly lined up in chronological order. Dazed after my disturbing wanderings, I’d rent The Watcher in the Woods with Bette Davis, because it looked like the stuff in the horror section (and is still one of the scariest kids’ films out there, no joke). I was hooked.
As the years passed, videos came out quicker, we wanted the latest stuff and we wanted it now, they cost less so we just bought them, then we bought them all over again on DVD, we threw out the VHS player, Blockbuster threw out all their VHS stock. Suddenly, on the rare occasions we went there, it no longer had the variety of yesteryear, only 20 copies of the latest Tom Cruise film. Yuck. But Thomas Video valiantly kept the dream of the 80s alive, for a while at least, and for that many salute them. I wonder if anyone else feels like a part of their childhood died with this news?