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Charles Village loses Video Americain

Closed store's inventory will be up for grabs Friday

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

3:33 PM EDT, March 13, 2012

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"Video killed the radio star," The Buggles sang in 1979, at the birth of MTV.

Three decades later, it appears that digital has killed a video star. The Video Americain store in Charles Village closed its doors March 12 after nearly 20 years in business. The original Video American store, in Keswick, will remain open.

Liz Donadio, the clerk manning the Charles Village location on its last morning, said the store's demise was due in large part to the advent of Netflix and movies downloaded or streamed on the Internet. That was stiff competition in an area near the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University.

"College students were the first to move to digital," Donadio said.

But Hopkins student Anthony Collins, a junior majoring in chemistry, sounded downright old-fashioned as he read the farewell sign on the front door and mourned the loss of the video store in the basement of the apartment building where he lives with several roommates at 3100 St. Paul St.

Collins said he and his roommates often rented movies from the store, watched them upstairs, returned them immediately and rented another.

"We can't do that any more," he said. "It's too bad. It's nobody's fault. We can't tell people to watch more movies."

Employees staged a candlelight vigil for Video American Monday night after it closed. It will reopen starting Friday from noon to 8 p.m. to sell off its inventory of 20,000 to 30,000 movies to the public — including obscure DVDs and out-of-print VHS tapes.

The store, located below street level, was literally and figuratively an underground video store.

Paul Burk, past president of the Abell Improvement Association, came in for the last time to return "Withnail and I," a 1987 comedy about two unemployed actors in 1969 London, who take a countryside holiday that turns out to be anything but.

"I love Video Americain," Burk said. "I like it because it's an unconventional video store. It's subterranean. If it was Blockbuster, I wouldn't be shedding a tear."