Books and movies you can feel
Illustration by Kelly Carpenter
The growth of online options for media consumption such as Amazon and Netflix has eviscerated bookstores and video rental outlets, for both big-box giants and the local independent stores that survived the rise of the chains. Many pundits have gone as far as to say that these businesses are obsolete and are destined to suffer the same fate as the radio star. Gainesville must have missed the memo.
Gainesville’s already-thriving independent bookstore and video rental scene gained a new member when Broken Shelves, a used book store, opened last March. David Astor, the owner, was aware of the challenges currently facing the industry.
“Instead of saying ‘This is isn’t working,’ I asked, ‘How can you make this work?’”
Astor wanted Broken Shelves to operate as a social space, which he felt Gainesville was lacking, as well as a bookstore. Broken Shelves sells beer, tea and other beverages and has comfortable seats for people to sit and chat. The store features works from local artists and frequently hosts performances by local musicians.
“Books create a space that can include a wide diversity of people,” Astor said.
The landscape for businesses such as Broken Shelves has changed substantially with the closing of once-formidable giants such as Borders and Blockbuster. People can choose to consume their media with the convenience that comes from online options or the charm and interaction that come with shopping at a local business.
When Video Rodeo opened in Gainesville in December of 2004, its first advertisement said, “F*ck Blockbuster.” It also ran a promotion where anyone who cut up their Blockbuster membership card and put it into a jar got a 10 percent discount off their rental. Today, the jar of dismembered Blockbuster cards is still at Video Rodeo, but the local Blockbuster chain has been long gone.
The owner of Video Rodeo, Roger Beebe, started the store as a place to carry alternative films that Blockbuster didn’t stock. Beebe, who is also a professor of film and media studies at the University of Florida, votes with his employees to determine what movies the store should stock.
Natalie Nix, one of those employees, believes that the non-corporate identity of Video Rodeo gives it the freedom to bring in a unique selection of films.
Near the store’s checkout desk is a catalog of Florida films, including New Low, a feature-length romantic comedy by Adam Bowers, a University of Florida alum and former employee at Video Rodeo.
Roger Beebe said that the demise of Blockbuster, while saving Video Rodeo, has widened gaps in film options.
“With Blockbuster gone and Netflix as our main competitor, the movie landscape has become much worse,” Beebe said.
Recently, Video Rodeo has begun to carry more mainstream films to bridge these gaps following the closure of Blockbuster.
Broken Shelves and Video Rodeo are situated in parts of town with heavy pedestrian traffic, particularly of students. However, the success of these independent businesses cannot be solely attributed to location and students. Go Video, the only other video rental outlet in Gainesville, is located in the suburban Hunters Crossing neighborhood, outside the sphere of most students.
Go Video began when Barrett Daniel saw an opportunity to satisfy a largely suburban customer base after the closing of Gainesville’s Hollywood Video, a now-defunct video chain.
“People want to deal with another human face-to-face who can offer them movie recommendations,” he said.
Gainesville has had its fair share of independent bookstores and video rental businesses close over the years. Book Store Inc. and Goerings Books, two long-standing institutions in town, closed in quick succession after decades of serving Gainesville.
Indie Gainesville began in 2011 to promote awareness about the advantages of patronizing local independent businesses and to combat any further closings. Gainesville’s bookstores and video rental outlets are key components of the organization.
“These businesses offer much more than just books and movies,” Whitney Mutch at Indie Gainesville said.
Gainesville has the distinction of being home to Wild Iris Books, the only feminist bookstore in the state of Florida and one of only nine still operating in the United States.
“It isn’t lucrative, but that isn’t why we got involved,” Erica Rodriguez Merrell, one of the co-owners of Wild Iris Books, said. “We got involved to help create a safe space and community for everyone.”
Wild Iris Books has a selection that could not be found in most other bookstores, offering extensive resources on women’s issues, the LGBTQ community and books dealing with alternative spirituality.
Wild Iris Books recently received an outpouring of support when it was forced to move from their University Avenue location for financial reasons. It began a fundraising campaign that raised more than $5,000. The funds allowed for a move to a location with significantly reduced operating costs off of south Main Street, near the Civic Media Center and the Citizen’s Co-op.
Merrell said that this ended up being a good thing because it helped “unify Gainesville’s activist community.”
All these businesses see themselves adding something distinctive to the Gainesville community.
“We are are trying to make Gainesville the sort of place we want to live in,” Beebe said.