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Article

Melbourne’s Last Video Rental Store

One of my fondest childhood memories is going to my local video store each school holidays to borrow videos, and then DVDs as technology advanced. Of course, the ‘local’ in ‘local video store’ changed every few years as the stores I treasured gradually closed. They were replaced with either supermarkets and gift stores or were simply left boxed up, only leaving a handful of operating video stores around Melbourne.

One of my fondest childhood memories is going to my local video store each school holidays to borrow videos, and then DVDs as technology advanced. Of course, the ‘local’ in ‘local video store’ changed every few years as the stores I treasured gradually closed. They were replaced with either supermarkets and gift stores or were simply left boxed up, only leaving a handful of operating video stores around Melbourne.

Early last year, I was heartbroken at the closure of the latest video store that I had become so attached to. It was by far the best of the four or five that I had called my ‘local’ video rental store throughout my life. It seemed to have absolutely everything. The owners were kind and always there to help me locate whatever DVD I was looking for that week / And they had so many titles—pretty much everything! Distraught, I frantically searched for another store, hoping that there would be at least one left in Melbourne. Was that too much to ask? And then I found it! Picture Search Video. It was the last one left. The golden ticket. This lone video store in a world of technological advances like the last people surviving after an apocalypse. Flashes of various sci-fi films are hitting me right now—not a pleasant sight. But this store is quite the opposite, it’s nostalgic atmosphere and retro aesthetic sure to entice even the greatest Netflix lover.

Obviously, there is a reason for the gradual closures of these stores. There is a reason Picture Search Video is the only video rental store left standing. It’s because of a little something called streaming services. Netflix was once the sole service to dominate this market, but then along came Stan, and today others have developed. Binge, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and even TV channels like Channel 10 have jumped on the bandwagon, offering a paid monthly service for access to ‘exclusive’ shows. Now, these services aren’t necessarily bad in their content or cheap monthly prices, I myself have used a few of them. But the fact that their involvement in society has impacted the presence of video stores is tragic.

The general adventure of travelling somewhere to pick what movie you’ll be watching that week is no more. Instead, sitting at home in a stuffy, dingy room, you’ll find yourself mindlessly scrolling for hours through endless options before eventually deciding on a film. A lot of fun that is.

I met up with Derek de Vreugt, owner of Picture Search Video, who was more than eager to discuss the growing issue of the film and television shows no longer being physically available for rent. Founded in 1983, Derek is the fourth owner of the store and has owned it for 21 years. The store has three levels and an overwhelming number of films. Even if you spent a lengthy amount of time in the store, there would still be sections you’d miss. The collection is impressive and wonderful.

Below are some snippets from our conversation.

What made you want to buy the store from the previous owner?

Never thought about it before, but they were going to close down. So I guess that makes it a passion project. I just thought “what? You can’t break up this collection”. It was a completely different store back then—all VHS. It was a great collection, they had some titles that were imported that other stores didn’t have. That was the only reason why. I remember making them an offer and thinking ‘what have I done? Now I have to be a shop owner and face the public—be a persona’. That was a bit scary. I just didn’t want it to close, it’s a really good library.

What are some of your favourite memories in the store and with customers?

Lots of people we get to know on a regular basis. We have conversations about movies and we get to know them, their opinions. We have thousands of relationships. They think of you at Christmas time and give you a bottle of wine and a card. During COVID I had a lot of food donations, and tips which were nice.

How does it feel to be the last video rental store left in Melbourne?

It makes you think that you’re estranged, but we have to maintain it as long as we can, because we’ll never have a collection come back together like this again if we close. Sometimes the movie experience is life changing and meaningful—it’s art. There are vitally important films that are only here, a select few. And a range of ones you could download but some people like to have the physical ceremony of putting the DVD in and it playing without any problems or any ads. People still hire some VHS films which haven’t been put on DVD, even some Australian films with significant actors and stories that you’re not going to get all back together in one place. Nothing else to do but keep going as long as we can. It’s not a money-making enterprise from a business perspective.

What are your thoughts on streaming services?

It’s probably good that I don’t have a streaming service and don’t need to. But I think a lot of people keep themselves amused [with them]. If they can’t find what they really want to watch, they’ll watch something else. There’s a lot to watch on streaming services. Maybe people are watching a bit too much of things they wouldn’t usually, or don’t particularly enjoy once they’ve run out of options. You can find particular films here.

Why do you want to keep the store open?

Mainly to keep the collection going.

*

Make sure you head down to 139 Swan St in Richmond to visit Picture Search Video. They’re open from 10am-9pm 7 days a week. You can select your favourite movies and televisions shows from the incredible amount of titles available for hire and sale. There is always that one title missing from a streaming service that you’re dying to watch. Here, there are no titles missing.

 
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