In the Netflix Era, a Video Store Becomes a Cultural Asset (CityLab)

Four years ago, the owners of Scarecrow Video brought all their staff members together to deliver some bad news. Like video stores across the country, the business was struggling. Its rentals and purchases had decreased dramatically as customers flocked to online streaming services. The owners were writing their own checks just to keep the business running, but they couldn’t do it anymore. It looked like they might have to part with their collection of over 130,000 videos—one of the largest publicly available video archives on earth.

For the staff, the news was devastating. The business had grown from a few hundred tapes in the back of a record store in 1988 into a Seattle icon, or a “movie Mecca,” as one customer called it. In fact, just in the last 15 years, its titles had doubled. “If this collection gets broken up or sold off, a lot of stuff’s going to vanish. It’s going to go into the pockets of collectors. It’s going to wind up in a library basement somewhere,” said Matt Lynch, Scarecrow Video’s marketing coordinator. “We wanted to make sure that it stayed available to people.”

So the staff came together to pitch their own proposal. The idea was simple: They would keep the collection together, in the same space and open to the public, but transform the business into a nonprofit. After some back and forth over details, the owners agreed to donate everything in the store—the films and the shelves they were stored on—to Scarecrow Video, the nonprofit.

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