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By Doug Brunell | June 22, 2006

Call it the end of a short era. May 2006 marked the demise of something beautiful in my hometown of Eureka, California. Anyone local who reads this column knows what I’m talking about — the closing of the Eureka branch of Video Experience. To say it was vital to the community is hyperbole, but it was vital to cinemaphiles, and while we still have some other video outlets to choose from, none could match Video Experience (or VX to those in the know) for quality and variety.
The store has another branch in Arcata, CA, just one town over, but gone are those days of walking up the street to rent “Deranged” on a whim. The other stores just don’t have the same kind of selection, and Arcata seems like it’s in another state. Any excursion to VX now has to be well planned out, and if you don’t see yourself traveling to Arcata more than once a week, it’s really quite pointless.
So what destroyed this stronghold of good cinema? The stories and reasons are varied, and it wasn’t just any one thing. There was employee theft that didn’t help, and the fact that VX didn’t try to compete with Blockbuster or any of the other stores that seemed to love mainstream hits and little else also didn’t enable the store to keep its doors open. VX was run by film lovers for film lovers, and like any business that’s run on love, money is sometimes lacking. In the end, the owner had to make a choice, and he made one that was good for his business, but bad for those of us in town who loved what he offered.
The store had a huge sale a few days before it closed its doors for good. I went in and took advantage of it, getting “I Don’t Know Jack,” “Godzilla Final War,” “Narc,” “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” and “The Manson Family.” I left a lot of films on the shelf I really wanted, however. I just didn’t want to owe any more money on my credit card. Had I not cared, I would’ve bought all the Guinea Pig movies, “Old Boy,” “Die Hard,” and a host of others that could of used a home in my collection, though I never viewed them as necessities.
As I gazed across the racks, wondering whether or not I should get “H,” I heard customer after customer come in and tell the clerk how much the store meant to them and how much they were going to miss it. “We’re still open in Arcata,” the clerk would tell them meekly. Unfortunately, it’s not the same.
The closing of VX makes the decision of using things like Netflix and straight out buying films an all together easier choice. Why bother going to stores that cater to the mainstream and have something like “The Card Player” under the “cult” section (if they even have “The Card Player” or a “cult” section)? VX had an entire Argento section. It had a Euro-Horror section. It had a “Drive-In Madness” section. It had a section devoted to British television shows, and one dedicated to Russian films. Russian films! How many other video stores can say such a thing? How many video stores located in a town the size of Eureka can say such a thing? Few if any.
The next closest store to me has a sizable horror section, but they are all on VHS, with an upgrade to DVD seeming pretty unlikely anytime soon. There is no section devoted to Mario Bava or Lucio Fulci. Blaxploitation? No way.
VX was the one place in town a true cinema lover knew he could go to chit chat or find some obscure film he had only read about. It was the only video store you could go to in town where you wouldn’t see the latest blockbuster playing on the house television. Instead, you may see “The Third Man.” It was the port in the storm of bad movies, and that bit it in the a*s, but it was a still a welcome sanctuary for those of us who thought of film as something more than a way to waste an evening.
VX Eureka is gone. I doubt I’ll be going to Arcata to rent any films, as I don’t want to have to drive there to return them. I’ll just buy them or consider Netflix (something I’ve avoided so far). I can go anywhere for something like “Batman Begins,” but now I’ve got nowhere to go for “Audition,” and that pains me.
I remember how excited people were when they found out VX was coming to Eureka. I know how depressed they are now. Hopefully something will spring up to take its place. Hopefully it won’t be plagued by the same problems.
Thanks for your time, VX. Sorry to see you go. It was fun while it lasted, but all good things must come to an end, I guess. But why couldn’t it have been Blockbuster? Apparently there really is no God.

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