Mount Airy video-rental store closing

Posted: February 03, 2014

WHEN THE people of Mount Airy wanted to satisfy their cravings for foreign or obscure films, they went to see Bill Mercer.

Mercer, the manager of the Video Library of Mt. Airy, helped link them with titles like "El Violin," a 2005 Spanish-language movie about a violin player, and "Little Otik," a bizarre Czech movie that provides a modern take on a classic fairy tale.

Now, the library, the city's last remaining independent movie-rental store, has announced that it will be closing on Germantown Avenue near Mount Airy as soon as it liquidates its remaining stock of tapes and DVDs.

"I think people are upset to hear they we're closing, but they know the reality of it," said Mercer, who's worked at the store since it opened in the 1980s.

"When it comes down to economics, there are just cheaper, more convenient ways to get movies."

Services like Netflix and Redbox took their toll on the store, which weathered the spreading technology for years even as competing video-rental operations, like TLA, shut their doors.

"We offered customer service and knowledge, more than anything else," Mercer said. "People would come in for the new releases, and if we could get them to leave with one or two other movies they had never heard of, we knew we were doing our job."

That happened pretty frequently, Mercer said. The library served as a gateway to rare films for both the young and old: There was the twentysomething who bought "White Heat," the 1949 James Cagney gangster film, after seeing a clip from it in a music video; and then the older gentleman who bought an obscure British film after Mercer helped identify it from a description of a snippet the man had seen as a youth decades ago.

"That was one advantage we had over Netflix: If you didn't have an idea what to rent, we could talk about what kind of films you like and make some choices.

"You don't get that with just the blurbs you see on the website."

According to library owner Dave Fellner, the final nail was struck when The Juice Room, a juice bar that they temporarily split the storefront with, moved to a bigger space in September. Without that extra income from rent payments, Fellner said, it became tough to justify staying open.

"Regular customers came in and said how sad they are to see us go," Fellner said. "I think they'll miss the social aspect of the library the most, its ability to bring people together."

Fellner says the store will keep limited hours - Thursday through Sunday from 3 to 8 p.m. - until its stock is completely sold out. The remaining DVDs are priced between $5 and $8, including rare prints of documentaries and Criterion Collection editions, which include exclusive interviews and other special features, of more modern works.

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