By Paul Keen
If one of the enduring realities of the past two years has been the pandemic’s tendency to accelerate the already existing shift to online retail, the good news for many small businesses is that these challenges have inspired equally strong responses from local communities, with many residents determined to do what they can to support their favourite shops, pubs and restaurants.
For Glebe Video International, these difficulties were compounded by the disruptive effects of its move to the Fourth Avenue Baptist Church at 816 Bank Street this past summer, after it was forced to leave its long-standing location above the pub just up the street. The pub, once known as the Royal Oak, may have changed its name a few times, but the video store above with its familiar sign outside had been a constant. The need to move, on top of the other pressures unleashed by COVID, which had already accentuated the lure of online streaming services, amounted to a perfect storm of business challenges.
Not surprisingly, a stalwart group of patrons rallied to support it. For many people, Glebe Video has long been part of a way of life that makes living in a neighbourhood like this unique. It is woven into the fabric of our collective sense of the distinctive features that make life in the Glebe rewarding.
In an age when online shopping too often seems to translate into a strangely diminishing range of actual choices, Glebe Video’s extraordinary collection has something for all film lovers. Its 18,000 titles on DVDs (a small number are on VHS, because they are not available in any other format) amount to an irreplaceable archive of film history, dating back to the beginning of film, that is more extensive and diverse than online providers could ever match.
But like most favourite stores, the appeal has always been about more than just the extraordinary range of choices it offers. It is impossible to imagine Glebe Video without thinking of its proprietor, Peter Senecal, whose interest in film is exceeded only by the fact that he knows most of his customers by name, always finding time for a chat while searching for the films and handwriting their receipt.
The generosity with which people responded to the current situation wasn’t surprising, from a highly successful GoFundMe campaign initiated by patrons to the volunteers who helped move the store (all 30,000 DVDs and 15,000 VHSs, not to mention the shelves they rest on!) to its new location.
Having operated in one place for so long, even moving just one block away resulted in an inevitable drop in business. It doesn’t take much to fall off people’s radar, especially these days, but business has been steadily reviving as people find their way to the new location. The space is a bit more limited, but for customers who make their way downstairs in the Fourth Avenue Baptist Church, just off Bank Street between Third and Fourth Avenues, it feels pretty much like as it always did – an inviting warren of films of every category imaginable, from the latest hits to award-winning international offerings. During a fourth wave of COVID that feels too much like the 40th wave, the challenge to stay in business remains a serious one, but for members of the community, the loss of one more beloved neighbourhood landmark would be especially hard at a time when everything already feels fragile enough. For those who haven’t yet made their way to Glebe Video’s new location, there may be no better time to renew your acquaintance with one of the neighbourhood’s most cherished stores.
Paul Keen is an author, an English professor at Carleton and a co-founder of the Shakespeare youth theatre troupe The Company of Adventurers. He lives in Old Ottawa South.