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Be kind, rewind

A look inside Durham's last old-school video store

On a cold Tuesday afternoon, Avid Video is empty. But it doesn’t truly feel deserted; an adventurous customer who might wander in from Ninth Street would immediately be surrounded by faces. Hundreds of brightly colored videos and DVDs featuring images of their main characters pack the walls, making it difficult to even walk through the small, poorly-heated store. And then behind a counter filled with stacks of old records is the sole real-life face: Jason Jordan, who’s owned Avid Video for more than eighteen years.

Amid the popularity of Netflix and online streaming, it’s a wonder that a video store in Durham still exists. To Jordan, however, its value is clear.

“I think we’re a library of resources for things you wouldn’t find other places,” he said. “We have a lot of films that you can’t find online.”

Jordan explained that he opened the video store at a time when the video rental market was thriving. Working at a rental store while pursuing a literature degree from Florida State University, he gained knowledge of the industry by selecting and purchasing films for the store. He gradually collected his own collection of movies as well.

Eventually, he made the move to North Carolina and opened his current location off of Ninth Street because he could not find retail space in Chapel Hill, and the real estate market in Durham was cheaper. As for that degree in literature?

“It was a crowded market, and I didn’t want to teach high school,” he said. “I didn’t want to teach The Scarlet Letter to a bunch of high school juniors who didn’t care.”

He said that he has been interested in movies since childhood. Growing up in small, rural town, watching films was one of the only ways to occupy his time, he explained. Then, living in Tallahassee, Fla.—a “liberal arts town that locals support”—gave him the opportunity to view art films that he otherwise would not have. This interest in film has served him well as Avid Video’s owner, he noted, allowing him to ably select a wide range of movies for the store.

The “mid-aughts” were Avid Video’s glory days, Jordan said. The store made a name for itself by specializing in foreign language films and independent cult titles, which separated Avid Video from popular chains like Blockbuster’s. Jordan added that the shop’s proximity to Whole Foods and Ben and Jerry’s likely helped as well.

But the store has faced extreme struggles in recent years with the rise of services such as Redbox and Netflix. Avid Video has been able to stay in business only because of Jordan’s work selling films online on sites like Ebay.

On a given day, just ten or fifteen customers visit the shop, mostly locals who have been stopping by for years. Jordan added that he runs the store himself, working every day from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. or later, because he can’t afford to hire employees.

And now, Avid Video is truly one of the last of its kind—the only other video rental store in the Triangle area closed in December 2015.

Still, Jordan noted that his store has resources unavailable anywhere else. Many customers visit the shop for TV series or classic films that they cant find online. Others simply like the local feel.

A customer named Nancy explained that she normally gets movies from Netflix but likes supporting local stores. She noted that many of her friends have visited Avid Video as well and speak highly of it.

Despite the local support, Jordan acknowledged that the end is near.

“The plan was to close at the end of [last] year but that didn’t work out with my timetable for selling the videos,” he said.

He said that he plans to sell part of his inventory either online or directly from the store, and then will place the rest in a warehouse that he is currently building. He hopes to support himself by selling films—collected from pawn shops, yard sales and flea markets—online.

Still, as someone who experienced the extreme popularity of the video industry, Jordan has a hard time comprehending that it is now mostly obsolete.

“You’d be surprised at how many kids I have coming in here who have never been in [a video store] before,” he said. “It’s just shocking because at one point it was just part of everyone’s experience.”

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