Make sure Scarecrow Video is here for good.
And let's make sure Scarecrow Video is here for good. Courtesy of Scarecrow

This originally ran on May 14 and has been updated with more details about Saturday's telethon.

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Miraculously, Seattle continues to be the home of the biggest physical media treasure trove on the planet, Scarecrow Video. Located on Roosevelt Way, the non-profit video store currently houses over 140,000 titles ranging from Criterion Collection sets to hard-to-find Mickey Mouse-themed exercise VHS tapes. As rare and hard-to-find media resources continue to go extinct, like Austin's I Luv Video and the Family Video chain, access to Scarecrow's collection remains crucial.

The video store just launched Scarecrow 2.1, a campaign to raise $250,000 by the end of this summer. The funds will expand their reach nationally by improving their well-worn database, in addition to financing operational costs, community programming, and the recovery of economic losses induced by the pandemic.

Scarecrow unveiled their rental-by-mail (RBM) program in March of last year, just when Washington's shutdowns went into effect. They privately soft-launched the program in late 2019 with a few local customers to test their internal system. After COVID shut down retail stores across the country, Scarecrow publicly launched the RBM program, making their collection accessible to physical media lovers in Seattle and across the country.

Since that public launch, Scarecrow executive director Kate Barr says they now have over 500 RBM customers in more than two dozen states.

“Now, all of a sudden, there are fewer and fewer video stores on the landscape, which we're never happy about," Barr tells me over the phone. “But we also have to say, if we're really going to invest in doing this rental-by-mail program, does that then become a way in which we can serve those communities that have now been left high and dry?”

The campaign says a big part of the raised funds will go toward revamping Scarecrow's website to make it more user-friendly, including enhancing the ability to reserve titles and get recommendations, while also centralizing all their audio and video content. On top of all that, Scarecrow wants to do a major overhaul of their outdated database.

Their internal systems, Barr tells me, were designed by two benevolent Microsoft employees in the mid-90s—and if you've ever tried to search through their library, you can absolutely tell Clinton was president whenever it was designed. Though their front-facing website got a facelift when they became a non-profit in 2014, Scarecrow has mostly operated on technology made in the last century. (Same. At The Stranger, our backend is held together by tape, ghosts, and dried cum.)

Barr calls the systems upgrade a "dream project" tossed around the organization for years. The prospect of fiddling with a localized data system that now contains over 140,000 titles had seemed daunting to undertake—but with RBM taking off, it's crucial to update the site and add real-time updates.

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As part of the fundraising effort, supporters can purchase exclusive merch, from beer koozies to limited-edition t-shirts, and buy a chance to curate a shelf. The store will also hold a Virtual Telethon, hosted by Viva Physical Media hosts Kevin Clarke and Emalie Soderback, that will livestream on YouTube from 12 pm-8 pm on May 22. You can watch to catch short films, an exclusive interview with filmmaker Jeff Krulik, a film trivia challenge with quizmaster Ken Jennings, a clip show from Collide-O-Scope, store tours, a couple of surprises, and tons of shenanigans.

Chase Burns and I will pop onto the stream around 5 pm to talk about our Unstreamable column and drop a couple of Scarecrow-exclusive recommendations. As of Monday, the store has raised $70,000, over a quarter of its goal. The train's still a-rollin'!!

Read more about Scarecrow 2.1 here and go make a reservation to browse their collection.

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