Devoted customers say final farewell to long-standing Vancouver DVD rental store

It’s almost 8 pm on the first true summer night of the year in Vancouver. Rowdy clusters of friends fill patios on Commercial Drive with chatter and roaring laughter.

Chantelle Parsons would rather be indoors, alone in a place of comfort.

She lingers quietly in a dim corner of a DVD rental store at Commercial and Grant Street, poring over the documentary section. One at a time, she tucks a few picks into the crook of her elbow. When her arms are full, she creeps shyly to the checkout.

“A few more,” she said, sheepishly sliding three more titles across the counter to add to her pile.

Chantelle Parsons holds some of her final movie choices from Black Dog Video on Friday. She said she visited the shop often during her childhood in East Vancouver. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

It was the second-to-last day in business for Black Dog Video after more than 25 years. Beat down by a steady decline in customers and a steep rise in operating costs over the last decade, the shop shut down for good on Saturday — leaving just one surviving DVD rental store in the city.

As the store prepared to close, it sold off all of the 16,000 movies in its inventory: anything ranging from new releases, classics, dramas, comedies, cartoons, documentaries, adult films and sci-fi. On the first day of the sale, movie collectors and regulars from across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island lined up around the block.

Classics from filmmakers like Billy Wilder went first, as did foreign films from those like France’s François Truffaut and Belgium’s Agnès Varda. A special edition, Blu-Ray copy of 1949’s The Third Man sold for $175.

By the final Friday night, it was mostly regulars coming back. Some had handwritten wish-lists and cardboard boxes to fill. Others just wanted to be there.

“I’m kind of sad … I’ve been coming here for a long time,” said Rosemary Mah, who came to the store regularly from her South Granville apartment.

Near-empty shelves are seen Black Dog Video on Friday, the day before it closed its doors for good. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The feeling was shared by Jeff Shantz, who traveled an hour to the store by bus and SkyTrain from Surrey.

“I’m going to miss, I guess, a little bit of everything,” said Shantz, who teaches criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

“When you bump into people who are interested in the same movies and you have a chance to talk about it…it’s different,” he said.

Customers agreed the store offered a place of community that doesn’t exist through streaming. You could ask a human being what to watch instead of scrolling the “recommended” tab. When you came back, you could debate what made a movie good or bad with people who cared.

Store owner Darren Gay stands behind the checkout counter on Friday. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The owner, Darren Gay, said the writing had been on the wall since streaming giants like Netflix launched. He thought the pandemic might boost business, with theaters being closed, but it did the opposite: people stayed home more than ever and didn’t come back once restrictions lifted.

“It’s just the way we live in the world right now,” Gay said, letting out a deep sigh at the mention of streaming. “I’ve made so many good friends with customers and staff through the years. I’m going to miss seeing all of them … but it’s time.”

Shortly before the end of the night on Friday, Gay left his colleague to close up shop and slipped out the back door for the “two-minute” walk home. He carried a copy of Donnie Darko for his son and Contamination for himself, adding to the 100 or so titles he’d already taken for himself.

Jeff Shantz said one of his favorite things about Black Dog Video was their selection of often hard-to-find documentary films. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

“Fifteen minutes to close!” video clerk Josie Boyce announced from behind the desk to the customers left in the aisles.

“Do I hear 16?” one man called out a mock auctioneer’s voice, drawing a laugh from everyone inside.

Parsons made her way toward the front door with two dozen DVDs — mostly “embarrassing” documentaries — stuffed into a blue canvas bag. The shop’s ’70s playlist had stopped, leaving only the hum of the ceiling fan and creak of the floorboards to drown out the noise outside.

Asked what she’d miss about the store she grew up visiting, Parsons’ tears burst out so suddenly they seemed to surprise even her.

“I’m highly introverted … It was just your one last contact with people who are having a genuine conversation,” said Parsons, a library worker who now lives in Coquitlam.

“It’s one of those last places you can come and just be a person.”

Take a virtual spin around Black Dog Video as it was in 2019

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