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Customers Bid Farewell To One Of The D.C. Region's Last Video Stores

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As Potomac Video closes its doors, customer Carrie Armstrong (shown with son Ben) says it's a shame that the Internet has taken over movie rentals.
Andrew Katz-Moses/WAMU
As Potomac Video closes its doors, customer Carrie Armstrong (shown with son Ben) says it's a shame that the Internet has taken over movie rentals.

One of D.C.'s last remaining video stores is shutting its doors. Customers say it isn't just the movies they'll miss, but an American tradition.

Tad Tharpe is balancing 25 movies as he gets to the register.

"I'm buying them all. The greatest classics; you can't even get these anymore on any website," Tharpe says.

Potomac Video in Northwest D.C. is a few blocks from Chevy Chase Circle. It's closing down, and everything is for sale. Tharpe says it's a huge loss. "One of the greatest things about growing up was going to the video store with your parents to pick out a movie," he says. "It was part of the American experience. Now, younger people won't be able to do that."

"At our peak we had 22 stores in three different states and the District," says Jon Francke, who bought movies to stock the shelves of all those stores. He says this store is the last one to close. There are approximately 60,000 titles—you could find everything from the latest blockbuster to niche foreign films to obscure documentaries. Francke says business always plummets during spring.

"The owner was looking at projections from last year, and last year he did lose $3,000 to $4,000 per month for March, April and May, and he was looking at it this year and going, 'I can't do that again this year.'"

Francke says there are some titles he will miss.

"They all have to go, but every once in a while I see one that leaves, and I was like, 'I may never see that movie again'—[like] 'Garden of the Finzi-Continis,' an extremely rare DVD. It's an Italian post neo-realist film from the '60s." [Ed. note: The film was released in 1970.]

Carrie Armstrong says she's sad the video store is going out of business. "Because everyone's shut in their house looking at a computer," she says. "It's nice to be able go to a store where you can put your hands on something and talk to people and get advice. It's sort of social."

But Jon Francke, who used to spend approximately $1 million a year buying movies for Potomac Video stores, understands that people like the ease of watching a movie online. He himself has a subscription to Amazon Prime and his girlfriend has a Netflix account.

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