MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We're going to stay in the world of film for this next story and meet a guy named Jon Francke. Francke is a lifelong movie buff, which makes his job kind of perfect for him since he manages a homegrown video rental store right here in D.C. And as Heather Taylor tells us, in this era of streaming video and Netflix, Francke is working to keep that brick-and-mortar business afloat.
MS. HEATHER TAYLOR
Twenty years ago when Jon Francke became manager and buyer for the local video store chain Potomac Video, three of the biggest movies of the year were, "The Fugitive," "The Firm," and "Jurassic Park."
MS. HEATHER TAYLOR
At the time video stores were springing up in every direction, but no one had a crystal ball about the industry's future.
MR. JON FRANCKE
I didn't really know where this business was going to go.
But Francke knew one thing for sure and he'd known it since his boyhood days in Massachusetts.
I just really like movies. I think my first love of movies was the classic Universal horror movies, the "Frankenstein…"
…"Dracula," "The Wolf Man." They were staples for, like, Saturday afternoon. When I was growing up, there were no cable stations, but all the networks would have their own monster movies shows, so…
And those movies led to an even greater fascination with film as a craft. Francke began making movies when he was just 13. And later he studied film at Syracuse University. Years later, when he had the opportunity to become manager and buyer for the Potomac Video chain, he went for it.
It was kind of a pleasure to actually be able to work in a business where I got to basically pick whichever films I wanted to carry in my store.
And for a long time the business flourished. The company grew from a few stores to many.
Twenty-two stores in five different states.
Today, movie delivery systems like Netflix and Redbox have replaced most brick-and-mortar video stores. The last surviving Potomac Video is on Connecticut Avenue in D.C.'s Chevy Chase neighborhood. But here's the surprising thing, remarkably the store has always been and continues to be financially strong. And Francke thinks he knows why.
Well, we offer a lot of titles that are not available through streaming. Our selection of DVDs, VHS and Blue-ray numbers about 60,000 titles, which last time I checked, the Internet was streaming 20,000 titles on Netflix.
He says location is key.
It's a very international neighborhood. People are very aware of what's playing in, you know, off New York, in small cinemas there and what the retrospectives are going on in the various film worlds. The foreign language section is probably our single largest section.
Along with British imports.
Our bread and butter is the British drama, but the British mystery section rents like crazy. There are copies of "Midsomer Murders" that have rented 150, 200 times.
But he admits when it comes to making movie suggestions, his track record isn't perfect.
I recommend movies to people every day and they don't always go over. I like to try to find out what people like before I recommend something. But sometimes I take a chance and sometimes it bites me. Oh, they come back and they say, oh, I really didn't like that. That movie was horrible. It sometimes happens, but it's rare.
If the store eventually closes, Francke doesn't know what's next, but he's already begun another business, selling portions of his movie collection.
Actually there's no customer that has spent more money buying movies at the store than I have. So I actually have a huge basement full of movies.
Returning to filmmaking might be a real possibility, too.
When I was at film school, it was very expensive even for a 15 minute film. It's like now they can do that on digital video and, you know, you could edit it on your computer at home. It's something that I am looking into.
Francke thinks people who have never visited a brick-and-mortar video store are missing something exciting.
There are a lot of people, particularly young people who never really had the video store experience. They've actually never been in a store so they don't understand how much fun it can be, just to look at the titles and select from the titles.
For whatever's next for Jon Francke, one thing is certain, movies will always be a huge part of his life. I'm Heather Taylor.
Time for a break now, but when we get back, 75 years of history at a D.C. public housing project.
MS. ELOISE LITTLE GREENFIELD
For me personally, I would describe Langston as miraculous.
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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