For Brian Bosworth, “it’s almost like there’s been a death in the family.”
Bosworth and his business partner Graham Peat own Videomatica, the 3000 square foot film haven at 1855 West 4th Avenue. For 28 years, Videomatica has brought Vancouver the best selection of foreign, classic and lesser-known films, many of which are out of print. Facing a decline in sales and ever-climbing rent prices, the store has been forced to shutter its doors for good.
Since its opening, Videomatica has been the go-to place for obscure and hard-to-find titles. “Way back in 1983, the films we wanted to see weren’t available in video stores in Vancouver,” said Bosworth.
Once they had the idea for the store, the duo “begged, borrowed and stole money and bought the best 400 movies we could buy.” Over the years, those 400 original films turned into a 35,000 plus piece collection, catering to a wide range of demographics and tastes.
A few years ago, Bosworth and Peat noted a definite downturn in sales and rentals that persisted and worsened. There is little doubt that the internet has had much to do with that trend. The ease of accessing online downloads has created “the expectation…in the public that everything is available or that everything should be available and it should be near free,” said Bosworth.
“I suspect the whole notion of going out to buy or rent a DVD is probably close to dead already,” mused Martin Kinch, a UBC creative writing instructor who teaches an introductory screenplay course.
“Rentals, at a place like Videomatica, probably mean there are films for us to look at, to study, to enjoy that are not likely to be available as video downloads, or legal video downloads,” he said.
Technological advances also endanger the number of films available on a particular medium.
“Less and less attention gets paid to the smaller, more independent film,” said Kinch. “Each time we move from one way of accessing film to another, the actual library decreases.”
Videomatica is hardly the first video store to call it quits in recent months, and it will hardly be the last. In February, “for lease” signs appeared in the windows of Main Street’s Happy Bats Cinema, accompanied by a note from the owners assuring customers that this was not the end of the store, just a relocation.
Just over a month later, the owners updated the Happy Bats website with the message, “So, we really are closed. And that’s it.”
They gave a final thank you to their customers, saying, “We will miss you. Keep supporting independent video stores and businesses as long as you can. They really are what makes a neighbourhood what it is.”
For Bosworth, Videomatica is a relic of a bygone era in Kitsilano. “It’s becoming more like Robson Street. Clothing stores, diaper shops and yoga shops.
“We’re actually thinking of opening up a shop called Yogamatica,” he joked.
With commercial rents along West 4th reaching as much as $50 per square foot, it’s increasingly difficult for independent businesses to stay profitable.
“Within three blocks of our store there’s tons of rental vacancies for commercial space,” said Bosworth. The 30 per cent rent increase Videomatica was facing was “not feasible” for the owners, said Bosworth, but “there were many straws on this camel’s back.”
Though they expected the store to be closed by the end of summer, the Videomatica owners have yet to set an official date. “It’s sooner rather than later,” said Bosworth.
The fate of the collection is their biggest concern right now.
“It’s our little baby that we built… Everyone wants to keep it together as a collection, but nobody has the money.”
Videos looking for a home
Bosworth and Peat are currently in negotiations with post-secondary institutions—UBC included—to facilitate a purchase of the collection.
“The exciting thing is that the institutions we’re talking to, they don’t want to just acquire it and stick it away,” said Bosworth. “They’re interested in…preserving those elements that can’t be replicated. They want to preserve it and save it for future generations.”
UBC has yet to release an official statement regarding this issue, but Jerry Wasserman, head of the department of theatre and film, said in an email, “The Videomatica negotiations are at a delicate point right now. We’re hoping to be able to make a…public statement sometime next week.”
For Kinch, having the Videomatica collection available to UBC students would be a great resource. “To go back and have the knowledge of where that comes from is really, really helpful in terms of your ability to write a film,“ he said.
“Any time you get your hands on a film you haven’t seen before, it’s a plus. You may well see something that inspires you. You may well see something you think is absolute crap, but that’s not bad either.”
To help facilitate the purchase process, Videomatica has launched a donation campaign whereby people can select and save individual titles from the collection. The response to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It gives people a way to help, which is what they want to do,” said Bosworth. “It’s like when there is a death in the family, somebody brings a casserole over. It makes them feel better.”
The current leader in number of titles saved is UBC astronomy professor Jaymie Matthews. The 20 films he has chosen to save reflect his love of science fiction, a genre that fed his burgeoning love of astronomy and astrophysics growing up.
“When 2001: A Space Odyssey Came out, I was ten years old and I just was totally swept up with that…films like that had a big inspirational role for me,” he said.
The Videomatica website has a list of current donors, each of whom list a reason for their choice to save a particular title.
For Matthews, the donation is a “thank you” to the store and its staff and, he added, “We are in some sense, helping to preserve that element of Vancouver’s passion for film.”