At Bookends in Florence, video rentals still alive

  • Greg Angell, owner of Bookends, prices books in the video section of his store. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bookends is at 80 Maple St. in Florence. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Videos in Greg Angell's book store in Florence called Bookends. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bookends owner Greg Angell believes his store is the last remaining business to rent videos in the Valley. The Florence bookstore rents to about 20 customers a week, a business that he describes as “steady and small.” GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Greg Angell, owner of Bookends, prices books in the video section of his store. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A collection of Coen Brothers videos at Greg Angell's , book store called Bookends in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Greg Angell, owner of Bookends, with a collection of Coen Brothers videos at Greg Angell's , book store called Bookends in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

Monday, October 02, 2017

Northampton — For all intents and purposes, video stores have gone the way of the dinosaurs, the dodo and the Whig Party. At Bookends in Florence, however, one can still walk in, rent a movie, and perhaps recapture some of that old video store feeling.

“It just gives me hope,” said William Dwight, president of the Northampton City Council, who worked for years at the now-closed Pleasant Street Video.

“They’re real throwbacks, but God bless them,” he continued.

Bookends owner Grey Angell said that video rental is not a large part of his business, which he said is about 95 percent used book sales.

“It’s steady and small,” said Angell, of the rental business, estimating about 20 customers and 40 rentals a week.

Angell said that he got into the rental business after Florence Video closed and he bought their stock. As more and more video stores closed, Angell continued this pattern.

“Since I liked movies and video stores were closing, it seemed like a good time to amass a large collection,” Angell said.

“As other places closed, we expanded,” Angell continued. “Kind of bucking the trend from the beginning.”

In addition to movies from these old collections, Angell also purchases new releases to rent, which he said is the most popular part of his rental business.

Angell bought Bookends from its previous owner, retired Daily Hampshire Gazette Editor Edward Shanahan, in 2004, after working at the store for “six or seven years.” Shanahan started Bookends in 1990 at 93 Main St., moving it to its current location at 80 Maple St. around the turn of the millennium.

Angell said that he knows of no other place in the Pioneer Valley, outside of Red Box, with a movie rental business, an assessment that is shared by Dwight.

Rentals at Bookends are $1.99 a movie. Rentals are for seven days, although that period extends into any time before 10 a.m. on the eighth day. Movies can be dropped off during business hours or in a drop-off slot.

He said that this long rental period was instituted deliberately, as some customers come from a bit of a distance.

“People do come from the Hilltowns a lot to rent,” said Angell, who noted that Bookends, located on 80 Maple St., is right off Route 9.

He said that no one from the Hilltowns has cited a lack of speedy internet as a reason for patronizing his business, although he did acknowledge that this was possible. Dwight also spoke to this.

“Many of them can’t get broadband,” he said, saying that they have to resort to downloading movies on Wi-Fi elsewhere.

There are no late fees at Bookends, and a movie is rented for another seven-day period if it is not returned during the first rental period.

Almost all movies that are for rent can also be purchased, and the store buys movies as well.

In addition to DVDs, customers can also buy and rent VHS at Bookends, most of whom are in the establishment’s basement. However, some people are starting to take interest in the old tapes as well.

“Young people are starting to buy the VHS,” said Angell.

Used VCRs are also sold at Bookends, as are cassette tapes, CDs, records, games and, of course, books.

“It’s nice to have some different things,” he said.

A movie buff, Angell said that he enjoys having the opportunity to talk to people and turn them on to new movies at his establishment, as well as learning about different movies from his customers. He also spoke to the personal aspect of the store, noting how people can show each other the box covers when they shop, as well as have conversations with strangers.

“It’s just more information. More convivial,” said Angell. “I think people end up having a better experience.”

Some of his favorite movies are “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Donnie Darko,” “Revolver,” and “Lars and the Real Girl.”

Online rental and streaming services like Netflix were a big driver behind the decline of video stores. Nevertheless, Angell said that he’s found that there are a number of titles that Netflix doesn’t have, and that people have gotten movies from his store that they haven’t been able to find there. He also said that he doesn’t like Netflix’s interface, and prefers how the movies are laid out in his store.

“There’s that opportunity for serendipity too,” he said.

Additionally, he said that the internet allows him to acquire a good selection of movies, and he noted a wide range of movie genres, as well as television shows, in the store’s collection.

Angell has also started featuring groups of movies based around different directors, with the Cohen brothers being currently featured in the display.

Asked for some of his favorite interactions in the rental business, Angell mentioned selling a Humphrey Bogart movie to a person who was planning on gifting it to an 88-year-old friend, and selling some old “The Electric Company” shows to a woman who was about to go teach overseas.