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How Does a Video Rental Store Stay Open? Juice It Up

By Virginia C. McGuire

What does it take to make it as a movie rental place these days?

Somehow, Mt. Airy's beloved Video Library has survived the the closing of their sister store at 40th and Locust in West Philly, heyday of the big video rental chain stores, the advent of Netflix and other online streaming companies, and five years of crappy economy.

Maybe they've survived because they never stop evolving, in spite of the retro name, the occasionally surly staff, and the rows of black plastic VHS tapes still visible behind the counter.

In addition to their movie rental business, they rent out a tiny 25-seat movie theater for kid birthday parties, and show cult movies for grown-ups on weekend nights. Four years ago, they added an old fashioned ice cream parlor serving local Bassett's ice cream, according to manager Bill Mercer.

And two weeks ago they changed things up yet again. They shrank the DVD and VHS rental operation to half of its former size and added cafe seating and a juice bar managed by Malikha Washington.

Mercer said the building is owned by David Felner, who also owns the Sedgwick Theater on the same block. People have been making noises for years about reviving the Sedgwick as a real movie theater, but for now it's enjoying a mini Rennaissance as a pop-up art gallery and the home of the Quintessence Theatre Group, a three-year-old theater company that adapts well-known classics.

For now, if you want to see a movie on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy, the Video Library's Little Theater is your only option. And of course, if you didn't plan ahead and the only Netflix movie you have for Saturday night is your three-year-old's favorite episode of Blue's Clues, it's always a relief to remember Video Library. They're strong on TV series, rentable by season, and obscure foreign films you can't get from Netflix.

"We're trying to have things people can't get other places," said Mercer.

Up in Northwest Philly we get a little sentimental about our small businesses. We'll drink as much carrot juice as you want, Video Library, as long as you keep the lights on.