September 10, 2014 / 7:59 PM / 5 years ago

Closing Brooklyn movie rental store reflects changing digital age

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Before launching a closing sale at her movie rental store in Brooklyn last week, Kathy Smelyansky looked around at the thousands of DVDs and wondered if she would ever sell them.

Business was not what it used to be, and summer sales had been slow. But after she put a large yellow “going out of business” sign in the front window of Video Gallery, one of the last independent movie stores in the New York borough, people immediately began to stream in.

The store’s classic and foreign film sections were the first to thin out, followed by the Oscar winners, action movies and television shows.

“I blinked and all the ‘Star Wars’ was gone, then the foreign section. It was insane,” said Smelyansky, 54, who emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1988.

By the weekend, under makeshift signs that offered three DVDs for $10, the shelves were starting to look bare. Most of the prized movies were gone. A steady flow of customers quietly trawled the narrow aisles in search of an overlooked bargain. Others stopped by and pleaded with the owner to stay open.

“This was the only video store left” in the neighborhood, said Smelyansky, who expects to close fully at the end of the month. “It is such a dying business.”

The store’s fortunes mirror those of the wider, once booming American movie rental business. As the popularity of online streaming sites such as Netflix Inc soars, video rentals have slumped. In 2013, Blockbuster closed its remaining retail outlets. Other independent video stores closed years ago.

The closure also echoes the demise of other music, comic and video stores across New York City as rents rise and consumers retreat to an online world. The famous Kim’s Video and Music store in Manhattan’s East Village announced that it was closing this summer.

Video Gallery outlasted many because of its eclectic selection of old movie classics and its popular owner. Since opening Video Gallery 22 years ago, Smelyansky has become a neighborhood staple with her cat eye glasses and Russian accent.

The store had remained a place where locals came to rent movies for $2.25 a night and stayed to discuss films and directors.

“I knew it was coming,” said Nicky Martin, 19, a college student who left with a bag of DVDs. “People don’t rent anymore. It’s all online.”

Sebastian Doggart, 44, an independent filmmaker who lives nearby, worried about the repercussions.

“It’s a symptom of the digitalization of our world,” Doggart said. “The collapse of the film community is sad. It was good to have that passion.”

Smelyansky remains upbeat. After two week’s vacation, she will work toward getting her license as a substance abuse therapist.

“It was not fun anymore,” she said. “It was too slow.”

Reporting by Edward McAllister; Editing by Patricia Reaney and Lisa Shumaker

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