Photo Credit: Jessica Silverman
After 31 years and five locations in North Georgia, Vision Video will be permanently closing its last location on Barnett Shoals Road at the end of the month. Charles Seward, who opened the first Vision Video on Broad Street with his brother, Hank, says he’s very grateful to have had such a long run in the business and is thankful to the community of Athens.
“We never expected the store to go on forever,” he says, acknowledging the changes in the market. “There are hardly any video stores left. Anywhere.” Streaming services and automated rental machines have put a serious hurting on brick-and-mortar rental stores’ bottom lines. Just look at Blockbuster Video, an international franchise that opened only a year before Vision Video and went bankrupt in 2013 before slowly closing all but 12 locations as of April 2017, according to Forbes and the Daily Mail.
Seward credits the local-loving community of the Athens area with Vision’s staying power over the years. “We’re just really happy and grateful that it lasted as long as it did—31 years,” he says. “It’s been a great, long ride, and we got a lot of support from the Athens community. We’ve had some customers who’ve been with us the full 31 years, and you really get to know people.”
The outpouring of community support was quite touching for Seward. When they announced the closing, people came from all directions to share their appreciation for their local indie video store. In fact, a couple came in with their children and announced to Seward that they’d had their first date at Vision Video. “That was really moving,” he says, “to realize what an important role you’ve played in people’s [lives]. We’ve really enjoyed being part of this town.”
Jeremy Dyson agrees. As Count Zapula, he hosts movie trivia and double features at local bars, and he also hosted last year’s Flagpole Athens Music Awards with former Vision Video employee Mark Weathersby, aka DJ Mahogany. He’s been renting from Vision Video since 2005, and hung out there so much that many people thought he worked there, too. “Random customers always thought that I worked there,” Dyson says, “even if I was wearing my work uniform from Dollar General.
“My first night as a resident of Athens, I went to Vision,” he says. “I was so stoked because not only did they rent VHS, but you could rent five movies for five bucks for five nights.”
The Dyson-Mahogany friendship should probably be credited to Vision Video, since that’s where they met. “As I frequented the place more, one of the employees started to take notice of the movies that I rented and started to freak out as I constantly rented John Carpenter films,” Dyson says. “I specifically remember him freaking out when I rented Play Misty for Me. That employee was Mark Weathersby… We instantly became the greatest of friends.”
Weathersby loved his time at Vision Video and chalks up its uniqueness to the community that it attracted and the relationships he forged while working there. “Working at the Broad Street location was like working at a super-cool community center,” he says. “I met and made so many friends, a lot of whom I now consider family, there.” Seward remembers Weathersby quite fondly, remarking, “We’ve had a great crew of people who have worked here over the years.”
That seems to be the biggest difference between streaming a movie and renting one from an indie shop: community. “I’ll miss the community aspect of running into friends there and participating in super nerdy conversations with the staff,” says Weathersby. Dyson expresses the same sentiment, saying, “Really, my favorite part about watching movies is talking about them afterwards. That is the thing I will miss the most about VIsion—being able to go in there and talk about movies. It was like a coffeeless cafe for me.”
Although Seward accepts that streaming is the future of home movie viewing, he seems to have no axe to grind with Netflix. “We’ve had a lot of customers who do both—they subscribe to a streaming service, but they’ll also rent from us,” he says. “Being in business for so long [means] we have an inventory of over 40,000 titles, so there’s a lot of movies that we have that you can’t easily find anywhere.”
Hopefully the industry will find a way to address the issue of rare movies and hard-to-find titles, especially in the face of the brick-and-mortar decline. Almost 30,000 video rental shops were open nationally in 1989, according to the L.A. Times, but the Chicago Sun-Times reported that number had dwindled to just 6,000 in 2014, and only 150 of those were independently owned.
The entire stock of Vision Video will be on sale at competitive prices (four seasons of a very-hard-to-find BBC classic on DVD only cost this reporter $16) through Dec. 23.