I grew up in Kansas City, in the neighborhood of Waldo. If you’re from KC, this should tell you something. But if you aren’t, let me paint a picture for you. Waldo is the southernmost section of KCMO’s central corridor. There is some history to this place. Over most of my lifetime, it has mostly been made up of normal, middle class Irish-Catholic familes — the kind that have lived here for generations, or at least a few decades. And like many older neighborhoods in this town, it is home to many locally-owned businesses that have become pillars of the community. The kinds of places that are owned by people who live just around the corner. The kinds of places that people from the suburbs call “quirky” or “full of character”. The kinds of places that the neighborhood cherishes. SRO Video was one of those businesses.
It was, in many ways, your typical independent video rental joint. They had new movies, old movies, art house movies, foreign movies, porno movies…everything. Always staffed by local high school and college kids (including a couple of my friends when we were all that age) who had weirdly great Employee’s Picks. If you came in on a Friday night you got a free beer (or two) to sip while you browsed. If you got the obscure weekly trivia question right, you got a free rental. On famous actors’ or directors’ birthdays, you could rent their movies for half price. The store sponsored a local little league team. The whole bit. Great little business that thrived for years. For most of those years, my family made sure to frequent the place. After I moved out of my parents’ home, went off to college, graduated and moved back to the neighborhood, I made sure to do the same.
Until one day in 2011 when, finally, Netflix dropped their prices low enough that I signed up. Three DVDs at a time for I don’t remember how many dollars per month. Even after I pulled the trigger, I told myself I’d still go to SRO every once in a while. They deserved that much. It didn’t happen, of course. And with three DVDs always available right there in my mailbox, how could it have? Netflix was too easy, to ubiquitous and let’s be honest — no physical location could hope to rival the internet-based direct-to-your-door service’s selection.
Three months later, SRO Video — the place where I’d been renting my movies and video games nearly every weekend since I was too young to remember — closed. And I was crushed. I know the two events didn’t have any direct correlation. But the symbolism was undeniable.
Today, I am still a Netflix On Demand subscriber. I kinda hate myself for it. But even if I cancelled my subscription, what are my options? There are no other video stores. Even those assholes at Blockbuster are gone. So, Redbox? VOD? iTunes? Hulu? Amazon? Bleh.
None of those could ever give me the memories and experiences that SRO Video did. I can’t enjoy that distinct, unchanging, musty smell that awaited me just inside the storefront door on iTunes. I can’t recapture the excitement of stopping in just as a copy of the hottest new release gets returned and put back on the shelf with video on demand. I can’t find the weird, artsy flick recos from the weird artsy kids that worked the counter on Hulu. Amazon isn’t giving any neighborhood kids the chance to play 3&2 Baseball at the complex down the road. And now, as a parent, I can’t provide a regular Friday-evening errand destination where my kid can run into a friend and brainstorm how they’re going to get me to agree to let said friend spend the night. We’re at the Redbox machine for all of a minute. What are the odds of running into anybody there? But, as a neighborhood, as a community, we threw all that good stuff away for a little monthly savings and a some added convenience. And a few years after SRO’s doors closed for the final time, that makes me sad.
I think that there’s a lesson here. About traditions. About community. About cherishing and supporting something you love. Even in today’s world where convenience, technology and SAVINGS! are ubiquitous, there is something to be said for the old way. The physical way. The local gathering place that, while admittedly not absolutely necessary, is absolutely central to what makes the place you’ve chosen to live yours.
Why didn’t I write about SRO’s closing years ago, when it was an event of the current variety? I don’t know. Maybe I was too young and dumb. Maybe I didn’t fully realize the ramification of what had happened. Maybe — and this pains me to write — maybe it just wasn’t convenient.
But, years later, maybe learning that we should value the people who’ve made it their life and their livelihood to serve us is the final experience I’ve gleaned from SRO. Or maybe I’m just being a crusty, nostalgic old fart. Either way, I miss that little store, and I’m convinced that Waldo will never be quite the same without it. And for the rest of my days, I’ll make sure to vote with my dollars for the wonderful locally-owned businesses that are still finding a way to survive.