Semi-Obsolete Media — Get 'Em While They're Hot! | Live Culture
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Semi-Obsolete Media — Get 'Em While They're Hot!

Posted By on Tue, Aug 19, 2014 at 11:42 AM

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In April of 2011, venerable independent video store Waterfront Video announced that it would close its Middlebury location. Though the locally owned shop held out longer than did most mom-and-pop video stores, the rising tide of streaming video posed too serious an economic threat. About two years later, Waterfront closed its Burlington location, as well.

When, say, an insurance company closes, it might try to recoup a little money by selling off its desk chairs, file cabinets and binder clips. But when a video store closes, its owners are faced with the issue of what to do with the stock that defined it as a business: movies.

Waterfront was fortunate in that it found a buyer for its videos and DVDs. But the current owner of that collection now finds herself, in turn, stuck with 12,000 DVDs that she's been unable to unload. Which is why it is selling off, for $5 apiece, all the former Waterfront DVDs at two upcoming weekend sales.

Jeanne Montross, executive director of the Middlebury charitable organization HOPE, arranged for the purchase of the videos with private money: her own, that of some members of HOPE's board of directors, and that of a few other private citizens. Montross tells Seven Days that her original intention was to purchase and then loan out the movies as a way to develop library, secretarial and data-entry skills among the under- and unemployed Addison County residents who benefit from HOPE's services. "We thought that maybe, if we got some software, we could teach people clerical skills and run a sort of lending library," Montross says.

Such an endeavor would be consistent with HOPE's multifaceted mission, which entails not only raising money for those in need but helping people learn to cook, garden, shop wisely and manage their budgets. "Somebody will come to us and maybe their water heater is falling through the floor, and we'll find some money and we'll send out a carpenter," Montross says. The acronym that is the organization's name stands for "Helping Overcome Poverty's Effects."

Part of the idea was to help people develop useful skills; another part, says Montross, was to "keep this collection moving in this community" through the lending library. The video collection originally included a fair number of pornographic ones, which Montross says went right into the crusher. "We felt that probably a lot of pain and shame was involved in making that, and we did not want anyone else to keep that alive," she says.

Montross and the other purchasers of the collection found themselves, effectively, a video store confronting the same dilemmas that Waterfront and other shops had — namely, the threat of ubiquitous downloadable content. The ambitious project soon started to appear too ambitious, and movement on it was slow. Waterfront's former collection wound up gathering dust in some disused offices.

Now, on the last weekend in August and first weekend in September, punters can find those 12,000 DVDs (minus the porn) for sale at Middlebury's John V. Craven Community Services Center. Montross regrets that the initial plan did not come to fruition, but she seems unfazed. She suspects that they won't sell all the DVDs in two sales. But, she says optimistically, "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." 

The sale of the Waterfront video collection will take place on August 28, 29 and 30 and September 4, 5 and 6, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the John V. Craven Community Services Center in Middlebury. 

Correction 07/20/14: This post has been updated to clarify the source of the funds used to purchase Waterfront's video collection.

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Ethan de Seife

Ethan de Seife

Ethan de Seife was an arts writer at Seven Days from 2013 to 2016. He is the author of Tashlinesque: The Hollywood Comedies of Frank Tashlin, published in 2012 by Wesleyan University Press.

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