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AFTERMATH: Renters Escape to Video Stores for Relief From TV Trauma

17 Sep, 2001 By: Thomas K. Arnold

The Blockbuster Video store in Oceanside, Calif., was brimming with customers shortly after 7 p.m. the Saturday immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States.

Five people stood in line, while about two dozen more browsed the new release shelves. Among them were several Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton Marine Base.Kathy and Harold Pippin already had one rental in their hands, Memento, a crime drama about a man who tries to find his wife’s killer while suffering from short-term memory loss.

“We’ve seen some of the memorial services on TV today, and we’re going to watch the news again later,” Harold Pippin said. “But we need a diversion — we need to try to get back to normal.”

With nonstop TV news coverage of the suicide attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., consumers seem to be turning to their video stores forsolace and diversion. Video retailers around the country report business has held steady, or even increased, despite the competition from CNN, Fox and other news channels.

Blockbuster even ran radio ads on news stations in Los Angeles and other cities, promoting DVD rentals. Comedies were in particular demand and so was a 20-year-old documentary about 16th century French astrologer Nostradamus, who in a quote widely circulated over the Internet was said to have predicted the attack onthe World Trade Center in the “city of York.” The quote was later branded a hoax.

Michael Becker owns two video stores in New York City, one just six blocks from where the World Trade Center stood. The Video Room in Battery Park is still closed; the Video Room uptown reopened forbusiness Wednesday.

“Rental patterns haven’t really changed,” Becker said. “People are stillcoming in looking for what’s new.”

Top rentals at the Video Room in the days following the attack have been Blow, starring Johnny Depp as an American cocaine kingpin, and Tailor of Panama, a spy thriller starring Pierce Brosnan. Both were released Sept. 11.

Becker said business was up 50% to 75% Wednesday, the dayimmediately after the attacks, then leveled off by Thursday. “Wednesday was a very strange day,” Becker said. “Everybody was off workand people were walking the streets, talking on their cell phones and huddling.

“When I had a meeting with our staff about when to open, or whether to open, I said ‘none of us want to work, but this is what people need — a diversion.’ On the news, the stories are becoming a little redundant and people have got to get away from it for a little while.”

Another New York City retailer, Marc Oringer of four-store Champagne Video, said business has been booming all week long.

“It seemed like winter time,” Oringer said. “There were lines in the stores throughout the day. We did 28% more rentals on Wednesday,33% more on Thursday and 40% more on Friday compared tothis time last year.”

Tailor of Panama and Memento were the top renters, Oringer said, “butthere was also a very big demand for comedies, from romantic comedies to classic comedies like ‘The Three Stooges,’ ‘I Love Lucy’ and the Marx Brothers. One customer told me, ‘We just need a diversion from themadness right now.’”

Some video retailers outside Manhattan report the barrage of TV coverage initially hurt business — much as television coverage of the Persian GulfWar did a decade ago, but there was a swift rebound.Chris Julio, owner of Home Video in Tracy, Calif., said rentals were down all week, falling 30% Friday, the national day of mourning. He said there’s been an “extraordinary increase in people looking to rent The Man Who Saw Tomorrow,” a 1980 documentary, hosted by Orson Welles, about the predictions of Nostradamus.

Tom Hannah, owner of Video Quest in Joliet, Ill., said rentals in the days immediately following the attacks were down 30% from last year at this time.

“Nothing is renting very well,” he said the Thursday night immediately following the attack. “Even Blow is sitting on shelves. I don’t really see people renting action movies or comedies to escape what is going on.

"It is now 8:20 p.m. and there is not one customer in my store.”

By Saturday he was singing a different tune. “People returned to the video rental counter on Friday,” he said. “Rentals were up 100rom the previous Friday.”Overall, Hannah said, “I really don’t see a change in the kinds of movies people are renting. But there is definitely not a big demand for disaster or action movies. The one exception is we got a lot of calls for that movie about Nostradamus.”

Dan Adler, owner of Village Video in Nederland, Colo., said rentals were down 20% Tuesday and Wednesday nights but then rose by the samepercentage Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“Comedies were the movies most requested,” Adler said. “‘Something light’ was the order of the day. Many requests went like this: ‘I do not want anything where someone dies.’ ‘Something light.’ ‘I need to laugh.’‘I’ve had enough bad news.’ ‘I can’t take it any longer; there’s nothingelse on TV.’”

A clerk on a break who stood outside the Oceanside Blockbuster Video store Saturday night said business was slow until Friday, then was well above normal over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the monitor in the DirecTV satellite demonstration kiosk just past the front counter was tuned to Fox News, broadcasting live from New York.

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