- Monty Ashley
- Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Scarecrow Video will officially reopen as a nonprofit this Saturday.
There's no sadness quite like the sadness you feel when a good neighborhood video rental store goes out of business. In early September, On 15th Video closed with absolutely no warning. It had been my video store for the better part of a decade, and I loved its cramped, director-centric layout and its incredibly well-stocked international sections. The only thing that kept me from descending into a video-rental depression (what, am I supposed to get a definitive cross-section of the history of international cinema from the fucking iTunes store and a couple of Redboxes?) was the fact that Scarecrow Video had successfully funded their Kickstarter to transform into a nonprofit. As On 15th's sudden shuttering proved, the video rental model simply wasn't working as is. Scarecrow is venturing into a bold new experiment, to try to bring the video store into the 21st century.
This Saturday, Scarecrow Video is celebrating its grand reopening as a nonprofit with an all-day party from 11 am to 11 pm. The celebration, which happens to coincide with the 4th annual International Independent Video Store Day, will include a huge 50 percent off sale for every Criterion Collection title in stock, a box art bingo game, trivia contests, and other sales on new and used movies, along with an acoustic performance from bluegrass band Rats in the Grass and musician David Plell when the doors open. It's a way for Scarecrow to reacquaint itself with Seattle and vice-versa.
Now is the time for those many Seattleites who live in eternal fear of change—remember the outrage when Elliott Bay Book Company announced their move to Capitol Hill?—to be calmed. Matt Lynch, the marketing director at Scarecrow, says "The store will look very much like it has always looked" when it opens for business on Saturday. "The only noticeable change, and perhaps not noticeable to everyone, is that we are no longer carrying video games to rent."
Kate Barr, Scarecrow's business manager, says "no longer carrying video games is a great example of the more democratic nature of our non-profit." The decision came during a staff meeting. "We voted on it and all agreed," she says. "This may seem a small thing," Barr adds, "but it illustrates that 'employees taking over Scarecrow Video' is not just rhetoric but reality."
So if nothing much has changed, why did Scarecrow briefly close last weekend? What was all that Kickstarter cash for? Turns out, the store had to completely revise its entire digital back end. Barr explains, "The old point-of-sale/inventory system, affectionately called 'Brain,' was a custom-made system designed by our very own Carl Tostevin," written in "a computer language that is no longer used today." The new system is eminently upgradeable, Barr explains, and it "will help capture some of our new efforts as a non-profit, like memberships." Basically, this means that both new and old Scarecrow customers will be asked to sign into new rental agreements. "The previous rental agreements cannot be transferred over," Lynch says, "so we have to ask everyone interested in renting to sign a new agreement. In an effort to save a few trees, it is being done digitally and only takes a few minutes." He promises that "the rental experience should be similar to how it has always been."
Scarecrow operations manager Joel Fisher admits "we were worried that the customer signups, computer issues and explaining that we are a new non-profit business...would confuse and frustrate our customers." But over the few days of the soft opening this week, Fisher says "everyone has been extremely enthusiastic and understanding" and the transition so far has been smooth. Fisher cites this as an example of "the passion of our customers and supporters," without which "the store would have been gone long ago."
Everyone at Scarecrow is aware of the fact that there will be fewer video stores in Seattle this Video Store Day than there were last year. "Every time a video store closes, it hurts all of us," Barr says. "Quite a few of us working at Scarecrow have had previous jobs at neighborhood stores and still have a soft spot for them." Barr wants neighborhood video stores to learn from Scarecrow's experience: "don’t give up without a fight," she says, citing the "awesome customers" and "wonderful Seattle film community" who have supported Scarecrow in this transition. Further, video stores should "be creative in how you use your collection. It’s easy to become trapped in the linear thinking of videos equal sales or rental. Perhaps the time has come for us to imagine new ways to use these assets."
Lynch explains the universal allure of stores like Scarecrow: "Neighborhood video stores are such wonderful little beacons of their respective communities, places where people who love movies—and who doesn't love movies?—can meet up and share that enthusiasm." With the closing of On 15th, "Capitol Hill doesn't have one of those. It's really sad. Hopefully we can help pick up some of the slack for folks in that part of town that still crave that experience," Lynch says. "Scarecrow isn't too far away."