Reel changes

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Every film comes to an end, and with the continuing growth of online movie rentals, many of Brooklyn’s independent video stores have called, “Cut!”

But many others are soldiering on, fighting the industry’s King Kong — Netflix — block by block, title for title, genre by genre.

Joe Martin, who owns the Reel Life South video store in Park Slope and has been in business for a decade, has felt a pinch in recent years — but he’s responded by adding an extra day to his rental policy and carrying more obscure titles.

True, he makes less money now than when his store opened, but, he said, “the ship hasn’t sunk yet.”

Martin and others carry on because true cinema buffs often have trouble finding what they want from a mainstream service like Netflix.

Film noir fans, for example, make their way to Noir Video in Greenpoint, a small shop that’s all about bizarre films and strict policy.

“The more obscure, the more bizarre, the better it sells,” said Noir Video owner Will Malitek. “As of now, 80 percent of [the store’s] income is obscure stuff.”

So, if you want to rent “Vampire Junction,” you’ve got to play by Malitek’s rules, which require that every movie be returned by 11 pm the day after its rental — and in person. The store doesn’t have a drop box and the rental fee is a non-negotiable $3.

Video Noir has been open for over two years — outliving a local Blockbuster store — and Malitek said his business is still growing, thanks to his offbeat selection.

Malitek said that his unique taste in movies is critical to his success. “I go on the Internet and if the name looks strange, or bizarre, I buy it,” he said. “ I’ve been really deep into movies for all my life. I don’t really care about the movie or who is in it. I go by directors and it works.”

But you don’t have to be a noir nut to appreciate an actual video store. Dan Wu, who opened Video Free Brooklyn in Carroll Gardens five years ago, doesn’t see Netflix as a competitor. Wu said that while the DVD giant has quantity, he himself has quality.

“It’s like the difference between ordering Fresh Direct and going to a gourmet deli,” Wu said. “We can have a personal relationship and know what you like.”

Wu hasn’t changed his business model in response to Netflix’s growing popularity. He still charges late fees — a steep $3.25 per-day for new movies — and doesn’t offer delivery. “I just can’t do those things,” said Wu.

But Wu can compete with other neighborhood stores, and is considering opening another location in Park Slope. He thinks that Video Free Brooklyn’s formula — wide selection, high-energy staff and quality customer service — would work there.

“We have all the interesting art house, cult weirdo stuff, but don’t want people to be turned off or think we’re obnoxious. It’s not about the attitude.”

Though even in Park Slope, you’re not guaranteed a happy ending. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go into this business now,” said Reel Life owner Martin.

Marty Arno, who owned Heights Video in Brooklyn Heights for 21 years, agreed with Martin. His store was a treasure trove of videos, housing 30,000 tapes — the largest collection in the state, Arno claimed. But when videos gave way to DVDs, he couldn’t keep up.

“Business was disappeari­ng,” said Arno. “I saw the handwriting on the wall.” Two years ago, Heights Video closed for good.

And now the video veteran, casting himself as a fortuneteller, believes the days of the mom and pop video store are numbered. “Netflix has had a tremendous impact on the [video store] business,” said Arno. “I think the life of the video store is almost up.”

Even among its fans. Claire Jackson, of Boreum Hill, is still a member of Martin’s video store, but she doesn’t rely on it for her everyday selections. “We go to the video store when we’re having a party and want something specific to project on the wall,” she said. “But usually we forget to bring the movies back and have late fees. For that reason, Netflix is just way more convenient.”

Reel Life South (1111 Eighth Ave., between 11th and 12th streets in Park Slope) is open daily from 11 am–11 pm. For information, call (718) 965-9775.

Film Noir Video (10 Bedford Ave., between Lorimer Street and Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint) is open daily from 2–11 pm. For information, call (718) 389-5773.

Video Free Brooklyn (244 Smith St., between Douglass and Degraw streets in Carroll Gardens) is open Sunday through Thursday from noon–10 pm and Friday through Saturday from noon–11 pm.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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