When we talk about things that make a community great, we mean things that are unique, out of the way, sustaining, personal. Glebe International Video is such a place and we are in danger of losing it if we don’t support it. This little gem, nestled on the top floor above the Pints and Quarts Pub on Bank Street, offers a warren of cinematic treasures. The proprietor, Peter Senecal, will provide personal advice and guidance as you browse the crowded shelves of his shop. He knows most of his customers by name, or by reputation (we have a running joke because we always fail to return our videos on time). Most people stop for a chat while Peter writes up their bill.
Glebe International Video has been a fixture amongst movie buffs of all kinds since it opened its doors 35 years ago. With 18,000 DVDs as well as an extensive collection of videos (they even lend video machines free of charge!), Glebe Video offers an important archive of films. There is just no comparison with the limited number of films available on Netflix and comparable online sources.
Yes, people have become dependent on Netflix to serve their movie needs. But Glebe Video has an archive that is more diverse and plentiful than any online providers. Are you looking for a foreign film, perhaps something by Fellini or a Spanish film by Almodóvar? Glebe Video has it. Do you need a classic such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator for your film club or cinema course? Peter has it. What about a Canadian classic such as Goin’ Down the Road (a film we rented recently because we had heard people talking about it), or perhaps a truly wonderful film such as The Way (directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen)? Glebe Video has this too.
Or take your pick of family films – from Harry Potter to Tintin – Glebe Video is there. What about TV dramas, from Inspector Morse to The French Village to The Office? Glebe Video has these too. Or classic musicals, such as Brigadoon or My Fair Lady, some old Fred Astaires, or maybe something more modern, like Grease? Most of these titles cannot be found online. Even those that are picked up by online streaming sources are usually available in the store weeks earlier. As of today, Glebe Video has copies of High Life, Everybody Knows, Hotel Mumbai, Grantchester Season 4 and Domino, which are not yet available online. If we lose this video store, we lose an important archive of cultural history. We deprive ourselves of one of those extraordinary resources that make the possibility of personal choice real in an increasingly monocultural era.
Over the years, business has declined as more and more customers shift to the easier option of online sources. Earlier this year, after an unusually bad winter that kept a lot of people at home, there was talk that Glebe Video might be closing its doors permanently, but luckily for the many of us who use it regularly, Peter has decided to stay open. If business picks up, this reprieve may be permanent. And this will be especially important, not just because Glebe Video offers so many titles that are not available online, but because of the streaming wars that many industry observers are predicting lie ahead as the major studios begin to pull their films from popular platforms such as Netflix and stream them themselves. If this shift has the negative impact that some predict in terms of both price and availability, many people will want to go back to independent stores, if they are still there. But that is clearly not something that can be taken for granted.
Everyone hates the shock of seeing that a favourite store has suddenly closed such as that much-loved bookstore or music store that we always thought would be there, but this time we have a chance to make a difference before we reach that point. The next time you feel like watching a movie or some classic TV drama, support your local businesses. Shut down your Netflix and take a few minutes to wander upstairs and rent one from Glebe Video. And why not stop for a chat with Peter at the same time? In a drive-through age, that may well be part of the appeal.
Glebe International Video is located as 779 Bank Street, upstairs. Open most days from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sundays 12 to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Paul Keen is an author, an English professor at Carleton, a co-founder of the Shakespeare youth theatre troupe The Company of Adventurers, and a resident of Old Ottawa South.