Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, Vermont couples and lonely hearts could drop into their neighborhood video store and check out an adult movie or three. On any given Saturday night, they’d reconnoiter at the small enclave at the rear of the store, usually set off by swinging doors, hanging beads or heavy black felt. After ensuring they weren’t being watched by — or walking in on — their local minister or child’s first-grade teacher, they’d duck inside and peruse the goods. There, depending on the collection, their mood and the other clientele, the experience could be hilarious, titillating or just plain icky.
Now, welcome to the golden age of virtual sex, when every imaginable taste, fetish and predilection is available at the click of a mouse, in the privacy of your own home. (To wit: The second- and fifth-most-clicked-on stories on the Seven Days website are titled “Naked Ambition” and “Live Nude Students,” respectively. One can only imagine searchers’ disappointment at discovering words rather than provocative photos.)
Today, more than 26 million pornographic websites operate worldwide, according to the Business Insider website. The online porn biz rakes in about $2.8 billion annually in the U.S. alone, and nearly $5 billion globally. At any given time, one in every four search-engine queries — and one in three downloads — is porn related.
No wonder local video stores, which for years rented films with such clever titles as Romancing the Bone, Chitty Chitty Gang Bang and Lawrence of a Labia, have had such a rough ride. As if on-demand cable services and Netflix weren’t threatening enough to brick-and-mortar stores, there’s now a site called BateFlix, which lets Netflix users more easily browse the collection for nudity. And yeah, there’s an app for that, too.
In many regions of the U.S., video stores are already as obsolete as “Be Kind, Rewind” stickers. With a handful still serving their devoted clientele, Vermont is an exception — but how are our stores coping with the online porn explosion?
One large player is getting out of the porn-rental business. At Burlington’s Waterfront Video, whose adult-movie collection boasts more than 300 titles, buyer Seth Jarvis recently revealed that he’s begun selling the flicks off. (He plans to keep a few X-rated classics, such as Debbie Does Dallas and Deep Throat.) Not surprisingly, Jarvis reports that demand for skin flicks went flaccid many years ago. As with so many social trends, the gay community led the way online, with gay-porn rentals dropping off faster than hetero-porn.
What’s a porn fan who still wants that hands-on video-rental experience to do? Thankfully, a few local independent stores that managed to survive — nay, outlast! — Blockbuster Video have maintained adult-movie collections for their loyal customers.
Rick Ransom, owner of Passport Video in Williston since 2009 — the store itself has been around for 25 years — reports that he still keeps about 100 adult movies on hand for rental and sale.
“It’s not much,” concedes Ransom of his collection, which he doesn’t advertise except by word of mouth. “As far as the adult [films], they’re pretty much compilations and some storyline titles,” he explains. “Nothing overly extravagant — no fetishes or anything like that.”
Ditto for Video King in St. Albans, part of a small, family-owned chain of video stores in Vermont and New York that’s been around since 1988. For the past 14 years, Melody Ferland has managed the store, where she’s happy to talk about the porn collection — though she admits there’s not much to tell.
“What can I say? They’re adult videos,” she says with a laugh. Ferland’s Video King has only 75 adult titles, a tiny fraction of the store’s 14,000 movies, which range from childhood favorites to cult classics.
As Ferland explains, Video King has never had a “sin room” but instead uses a notebook system, allowing skin-flick customers to browse the titles without offending the sensibilities of family-oriented clientele. That way, she says, “We don’t have to keep track of where the 12-year-olds are hiding.”
Reg, who didn’t want to give his last name, has owned Hollywood Video in South Burlington for 28 years. He was initially reluctant to discuss his store’s X-rated videos. Why the shyness? Evidently, some years ago a doctored photo of his store appeared in a newspaper, which led readers to believe that all he rented was skin flicks. Understandably, Reg was pissed.
Today, Hollywood has about 300 adult titles in a total collection of some 1500 videos. At one time, the store had as many as 5000 titles, but Netflix and other on-demand services have eaten away at Reg’s profits, he laments.
While adult-film rentals account for a small portion of his overall business — video-game rentals and sales are far more profitable — Reg still keeps them on hand in a room in the basement, safely out of reach of younger viewers. Hollywood Video even provides brown paper bags in which adult-movie customers can bring their selections to the checkout.
Ah, the anonymous brown paper bag. That’s something you can tell your grandchildren about — once they come of