Is this a good idea? Brooklyn couple wants $50K for a DVD rental store

The beauty of crowdfunding: it’s both a boon for dreams and an enabler of bad business ideas. Lots of funders are getting behind this Brooklyn soccer camp, but are astroturf flip flops really the next big thing? We also wonder what you think about this one: a couple in Cobble Hill is trying to raise $50,000 to renovate the business they bought: a good old-fashioned DVD store with plastic-sheathed discs and now, a smart movie guy behind the counter. Bobcat Goldthwait, Patton Oswalt and David Cross are all behind it, as is Oscilloscope Laboratories, the film distribution company founded by the late Adam Yauch. But does anyone still want to go to video stores?

Aaron Hillis is a journalist, film critic and curator of the ReRun Gastropub Theater in Dumbo who believes face-to-face recommendations from a trusted source is something movie-watchers still want. On IndieGogo (a crowdsourcing platform like Kickstarter, but you get to keep the dough even if you don’t make goal), he promises that Video Free Brooklyn will offer “that interactive experience of talking to someone knowledgeable behind the counter at all times — someone who can cater to your tastes.” Also, he wants to host screenings, readings and panels in the 375-square-foot space.

Can he succeed?  There has been an Amazon-defying renaissance of indie bookstores in Brooklyn, not to mention improbable food businesses. But as the Wall Street Journal notes, the artisanal trend does not seem to apply to video stores, yet: two Park Slope video stores — Reel Life South and Video Forum — have both shut down in the last year. While Hillis does seem like a guy you’d trust to pick a French scifi film, can sheer personality triumph over the immediacy, convenience and $7.99-a-month of Netflix?

Would you ever go back to renting movies you have to physically pick up and then return to the store when you can decide what to watch at 2 a.m. with no advance planning / clothes on? Or is plucking them off of a neighbor’s stoop enough of a recommendation? Wait — do you even have a DVD player?




  1. robotsandlace

    I used to live right near a video store like this in Baltimore called Video Americain. While yes, a lot of people will choose to stream/use digital video, the fact that they chose to be in a neighborhood known to be a little “artsy”, plus the fact that they were staffed by people who LOVED movies and could recommend the weirdest, most obscure movies really helped them survive. I would go there when I wanted to watch something and I wasn’t sure what and got exposed to great cinema that I wouldn’t have otherwise! However, rents are much cheaper there…

  2. Tim Donnelly

    I’m way more of a book buff than a film buff, but the indie bookstore comparison is an apt one. There’s no way small booksellers can compete with the prices of Amazon or B&N, but they offer an experience that people are willing to pay a premium for: the sense of community, the quaintness, the events and culture that make it stand out from a chain. I’d rather spend the extra few bucks for a book from the staff recommendations shelf at Greenlight because the experience of browsing is a more fulfilling one there.

    Maybe it’s the same for movies? Maybe this is one of those works-only-in-Brooklyn kinda ideas, so it might fly here but not elsewhere.

    That said I haven’t handled a DVD in probably a year and will be happy to stream all movies in the future if possible.

  3. Cribbster

    It’s not a terrible idea if there’s a practical reason behind it. I’m having trouble locating a copy of “Alien” right now because it’s not available on Netflix, streaming or DVD. And none of the Redbox or Blockbuster kiosks have it. And pretty much all the rental stores are gone. A store like that might be useful. But, honestly, if it exists just to satisfy nostalgic B.S. like browsing in a store, those people can go eff themselves. Particularly if they’re trying to get money from other people. That’s B.S. It’s one thing to support art through crowdsourcing, but if you put money into a business that’s supposed to make money, and it’s not your brother or uncle or some crap, you’re an idiot. At the very least, there’s $50,000 between those three comedians and Oscilloscope for sure. If the crowdsourcing is an investment opportunity, then that’s one thing. Honestly, none of this crap will survive, books or movies. It’s probably a stupid idea. Actually, yeah, it’s a dumb idea.

  4. i love photoplay up in greenpoint, but i do wonder how they stay in business.

    yes i will rent from a dvd rental place, no i will not sink my money into such a venture.

  5. eric_silver

    In general, I don’t get the practice of doing a kickstarter or kickstarter-like venture for a commercial business. I mean, I get it, but that isn’t really what those sites were started for. If you are trying to start a business, find investors (as Cribbster said). It’s weird asking people for donations for something that’s meant to be your business. Also kind of greedy, right?

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