Three Victims of the Revolution in Brooklyn

Film Processing, Video Rentals, Music Store: Killed in the Digital Media Revolution

In our Brooklyn neighborhood, retail is done at the personal level by entrepreneurs in storefronts on the avenue, not way out of town at giant, globalized, mall-clotting chain stores. This season, three familiar stores have gone out of business, made obsolete by the changing technologies, market dynamics and brutal business models of digital communications.

  • Film Processing: Who needs One-Hour Photo processing when there’s no more 35 mm or Instamatic film?
  • Video Rentals: How does a neighborhood rental shop compete with 300-channel cable and satellite systems, video-on-demand and the ubiquitous Netflix?
  • Music: Giant Tower Records and our local SoundTracks were both doomed. Who would want to sell music today, up against Wal-Mart’s loss-leading discounts, P2P file sharing, digital satellite radio, iTunes and all those iPods and also maybe Zunes?

We always talk about how technology has conquered time and distance, the three-dimensional world doesn’t hold us back as much. Everything we want is just a click away, but we lose the physical, tactile sense of life. I take lots more photos these days, but they’re JPEG files in my home server. I miss the boxes of snapshots I can sort and stack. The Amazon and Netflix robots recommend exactly the DVD titles I’m likely to want, but I miss browsing stacks of videocassettes and going to real widescreen movies. Services like podcasting and Pandora are breathtaking capabilities, but album covers and liner notes and even the fixed set of tracks  on an album were important, designed parts of the music experience.

We’re still figuring out how to live well in this digitized society. People are obsessed by their Crackberries and spend way too much money on new TV sets. Eventually we’ll get it right, understand what’s important, learn which things to say No to. Another storefront  just opened on the avenue, a big expansion of a whole-in-the-wall start-up that’s now doing a booming business in High Quality Stationery. Apparently, there’s a global trend towards nice writing papers and fancy envelopes.