Video Rental Stores Still Exist?

There are many options for watching and renting movies in the Fairfax area

I decided on a whim to watch all of the Oscar-nominated animated films this year, since I have a soft spot for them. Watching movies is an easy thing to do, right? Go to a chain theater if it’s new, or click through Netflix if it’s older. Or stop by a RedBox, one of my favorite ways to pick up recent DVDs on a whim. But with all of the usual options crossed resolutely off my list, finding movies required a new approach.

Two films were on my list: How to Train Your Dragon, and L'illusionniste. I knew getting a hold of How to Train Your Dragon would be the bigger challenge, since it was released last March and has long since disappeared from all theaters. No, this would be an actual challenge to find a local movie rental store.

My hopes weren’t high, since I knew the Blockbuster in Burke Centre had closed a few months back. If a high-profile chain like that couldn’t tough it out, what else would? But after slogging through thirty suggestions on Facebook pertaining to Brooklyn, Chicago and Kansas (the Internet can be as frustrating as it is helpful), my friend Kent Manley made a worthwhile suggestion: a video store in the Twinbrook shopping center, by Outback Steakhouse.

I drove over to discover that the shop in question was Potomac Video, a store that inexplicably manages to stay in business despite seeming rooted in the nineties. Walking in is like traveling backwards in time; there’s a collection of DVDs in the front, and then the back half of the store is stocked full of VHS tapes. The walls are papered with fading movie posters, and a board next to the door halfheartedly announces upcoming (and past) releases.

One wall is devoted to “new” DVDs, though "new" seemed to be a subjective concept. I found my desired title, How to Train Your Dragon, amidst newer movies like Inception and older releases like 2006’s Once. The woman at the counter was nice and helpful, and my two-night rental ended up costing $4.74.

I found a couple of things frustrating about the overall process. First, a two-day rental for a “new” movie meant that I felt pressured to watch it – not once, but twice, so that I could work my way through the director’s commentary track and all of the special features. No matter how good the film was (and I quite enjoyed it), twice in two days is a lot. Then, as my usual complaint goes, I disliked the cost.

Five dollars is not a lot of money. But there are a lot of ways to see movies, and that money can go a long way. A Netflix account costs only $9.99 per month (two dollars less if you don’t want DVDs) and you can stream as much content as you wish, as well as renting one disc at a time with no due dates or late fees. I’m impressed any movie rental place can stay open in the face of that. And then when you consider that a movie costs around $16.99 on Amazon.com to purchase, it’s hard to convince yourself to rent when for another ten dollars you can own it forever.

There are some really solid options for movies that are currently in theatres, though. It’s one of the few times I’ve found that going local can mean going cheaper. The previously mentioned University Mall Theatre does $2 Tuesdays, $3 student & senior tickets and shows movies after they’ve already left the main theaters.

My favorite area theatre is Cinema Arts, hands-down. We’re lucky to have an arts theatre so close by, and they show a wonderful mix of current hits and independent art films. That’s where I plan on seeing L'illusionniste, as soon as it arrives. The local theatres might not sparkle and shine the way Regal and Cinema De Lux do, but they cost a lot less and have a lot of character to them.

Plus, the owner of Cinema Arts sends out an e-mail newsletter that is refreshingly honest. When was the last time a business owner wrote to tell you: “I am big enough to admit I should have gotten ‘Little Fockers’ instead of ‘How Do You Know.’  I believe we would have done more business.  I goofed!! Ah, but that's the fun of this business.”

It’s those sorts of personal touches that make an idle consumer a loyal customer.

Kristen Snellings February 15, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Don't forget the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, Grace! They have $1 movies on Mondays, and $2 on Tuesdays. I think the most they ever charge for a movie ticket is $5. The trick is not to spend a bunch more money on food and drink once you sit down for the show.
Grace Kendall February 15, 2011 at 01:48 PM
I'm trying to stay a bit closer to home and shop locally, but thanks for letting me know - I'm sure people will be glad to know there's more than one rental option nearby.
Grace Kendall February 15, 2011 at 01:48 PM
Grace Kendall February 15, 2011 at 01:49 PM
Definitely, Kristen! I generally don't head out there because it's a bit far and doesn't show as many films as say, University Mall, but I've signed myself up for their newsletter so I can be better aware of what they've got going on. I trust you to be on top of movie bargains. ;) Cheers!
Kent February 15, 2011 at 03:51 PM
I don't know if you knew this, but University Mall Theatre and Cinema Arts--both owned by the same person.


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