Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why Independent Isn't Always Better

With the ever-increasing visibility of corporate chains (Walmart, Starbucks, McDonalds) forcing the smaller mom-and-pop operations out of business, many of us have this perception of the soulless corporate operation, and of mom-and-pop stores as friendly, down-home type establishments. Many times, this is indeed the case, but not always.

After getting my business in Patchogue done much earlier than expected, I decided to walk home in the very humid weather. In case you didn't know, I can't drive, so many times, when public transportation or a ride isn't around, I have to walk. Which is fine. Anyway, on the way home, I stopped into 112 Video. 112 Video is touted as one of the best independent video stores anywhere and they indeed do have a very large library, including stuff you would have a lot of trouble finding anywhere else. I went there to have a relative I haven't spoken to in a long time taken off my account. I asked this clerk in her late teens or early 20s if she could do this and prefaced it with "can you do me a favor?" She replied, "Depends on the favor." Like I'm going to ask for something that's so ludicrous that it can be refused.

I don't know, I might be a little nit-picky over what happened, but she sounded a little rude. I'm a movie lover, and I believe in supporting small, independent stores. So you'd think I'd be a regular at a place like 112 Video. Fact is, I haven't been there regularly since the late 90s and haven't been there at all in over a year. It's an independent store with many videos that fit my tastes. So what's the problem? Their employees suck. I'm sorry for being so blunt, but that's about as simple as I can put it. When you're in a small business like that, facing down huge rivals like Blockbuster as well as video delivery companies like Netflix, little things count for a lot. Being conversational and informed about movies, or at least being friendly, can make all the difference. Say what you want about Blockbuster, but their employees are outgoing and lively compared to the zombies that are behind the counter at 112 Video. Hell, their clerks have talked movies with me a few times, how about that? The only reason I won't go to Blockbuster more often is because the one manager (bald guy with glasses) always tells me to keep my backpack up front, like I'm going to steal something.

There was one guy who was friendly enough and knew a thing or two about movies who worked at 112 but he's long since gone. The owner (not sure if he still owns it) was working there once and he made some glib insult because I took out the Noam Chomsky documentary, "Manufacturing Consent". Another employee, some old white guy my brother and I call "Scarecrow" (because he always wears flannel shirts and is rail-thin, hence "scarecrow"), complimented me once on my rental of the movie "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" (good movie by the way, Jason Robards plays Al Capone. George Seagal's in it too), but all the other times, not even a friendly greeting. Other than the three I mentioned, there's usually teenage girls there who just talk on their cells.

On my way in, I read that 112 Video is moving out of their long-time location (in the small shopping center right next to the Metropolis Diner) and moving down the street. Once a business moves, especially from a location they'd been at forever, it's usually the beginning of the end. Either the rent went up, or more likely, they're not doing enough business to be able to pay their present rent. Blockbuster wasn't able to kill them, but Netflix and the other DVD home services might have been able to accomplish just that. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I wish I could have frequented 112 more, and would have if their workers had a better attitude.

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