TLA Video"/>

The past ten years were host to the great­est chal­lenges and joys of my life. I started the decade as a tough-minded grad stu­dent at the New School for Social Research. Some­where along the way I turned an unpaid hobby into a career. Crazy, huh?

In between times, I made the best out of under­em­ploy­ment, teach­ing myself about movies dur­ing a stretch as a video store clerk. I fell in love with film at TLA Video’s store at 4th and South Sts. The store closed ear­lier this month. Need­less to say, it was a Philly insti­tu­tion that will be sorely missed by any­one who set foot in it.

I feel for­tu­nate to have worked with the peo­ple who made TLA Video a safe haven for cinephiles here in Philly. I can’t tell you how many cus­tomers thanked us for sim­ply being the loyal oppo­si­tion to Block­buster. We knew who Wim Wen­ders was when the big box stores barely car­ried for­eign titles. Sure, it was a low-paying retail job, but at least it had a mis­sion and a clear iden­tity. We were going to offer the sort of movies Block­buster edited out of exis­tence, whether that was for­eign or adult or what­ever. TLA was every­thing Block­buster wasn’t.

The road got rock­ier when Net­flix started to bully brick and mor­tar. When I think back to my time there between 2003-05, I swore I’d never go to Net­flix. It lacked imme­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion, I thought, dis­re­gard­ing all those times I went into the store only to dis­cover the movie I so des­per­ately wanted to see was cur­rently rented. I thought the mail was just a clunky way to deliver movies. How wrong I was. Cus­tomers loved it and we watched our busi­ness dwin­dle even in Netflix’s early days.

I think the peo­ple who worked at TLA made it the insti­tu­tion it was. I was intro­duced to more off-the-wall movies by my co-workers than I have been in 3+ years as a Net­flix cus­tomer. Every­one had their area of exper­tise and our reg­u­lar cus­tomers sought out those of us they trusted most when they needed to see some­thing, but weren’t sure what to rent. It was a joy to help peo­ple find new and inter­est­ing movies to watch, and a greater plea­sure to dis­cuss them when they returned. It was the only thing we could offer that the com­puter and it’s Amazon.com-esque rec­om­men­da­tions couldn’t.

Ulti­mately, con­sumers chose con­ve­nience over that level of cus­tomer ser­vice. Oner­ous late fees and the has­sle that came with them were enough to kill off the brick and mor­tar biz. Trust me: we hated those argu­ments as much as you did! The brick and mor­tar busi­ness tried to accom­mo­date this cus­tomer with ter­ri­ble results. There was no price point that would work for a com­pany with the sort of over­head TLA had.  What made TLA Video spe­cial will ulti­mately kill it off. The video store will not die with dig­nity, but rather a slow, lin­ger­ing death at the hands of Net­flix, Red­box, and the mot­ley offer­ing from your cable provider.

When TLA laid me off in 2006, I was hurt most because I really believed in what they hoped to accom­plish. It still hurts. I’ve watched help­lessly as they’ve laid off many of the peo­ple who made the com­pany great. I’ve since moved on and am very happy where I am, but I still miss the ideal TLA rep­re­sented, even if it set a stan­dard no busi­ness could live up to in today’s economy.

I think what’s strangest of all is how I will strug­gle to explain what a video store was to my son when he asks about the jobs I’ve held. Are knowl­edge work­ers at the shal­low end of the jobs pool des­tined to go the way of the milk man?

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