Can’t say I was surprised, but sad to hear that RAO Video is closing down once it finds a buyer for its Main Street building, which the D-G reported over the weekend. It was one of my favorite video rental stores — a phrase that will be meaningless to my daughter when she grows up — anywhere in the country. Hell, it was one of my all-time favorite stores, period.
They had a great selection, a friendly and boisterous staff, and a pleasantly seedy atmosphere. It was big and inviting and weird. Neighborly. The very best part was that the selections, at least when I was frequenting the place several times a week as a twenty-something movie fanatic, were not in any discernible order on the shelves. You just had to peruse, and you would find what you would find. This fostered what the algorithms pushing your preferences never can: Serendipity. The true wonder and luck of happening upon something revelatory that you never would have known to seek. It’s the difference between searching on the internet and arriving immediately at just what you’re looking for and wandering through the stacks of a library and discovering something by chance. Randomness and missteps can take you past your narrow predilections, and you never know what you might find.
The D-G article focuses on piracy as one cause of RAO’s demise. It makes no mention of RAO’s upstairs area, where they had offerings for, ahem, grownups (around a quarter of their titles as of 2013). I’m guessing the internet proved to be killer competition on that front.
It’s something of a wonder that RAO lasted as long as it did. Nostalgia is a soggy sort of comfort blanket, but if you’ll indulge me: For me, that store will always be a part of Little Rock’s old weird Main Street, or at least the version of it that I found when I moved to downtown Little Rock, knowing not a soul, for my first job out of college almost twenty years ago. RIP Mr. Cool.
Progress marches on. Forgive me, in middle age, if I have some sympathy for the Luddites, who weren’t exactly wrong. I confess that I will miss video stores, and newspapers, as the plutocrats devise new disruptions to solve problems I don’t have.
RAO will remain open until a buyer for the building is found. They’ve begun selling off their DVDs. Pause your streams and stop by if you can. Take the walk down 7th to Main, say hello to the clerk, and walk down the shelves. You might just find a keeper.