Morningside's Movies Worth Seeing closing

At Movies Worth Seeing, the video-rental institution in Atlanta's Morningside neighborhood, the walls are growing increasingly bare.

After 25 years in business, owners Jerry and Anne Rubenstein have finally succumbed to the pressures of Netflix, rental kiosks and premium movie channels. They announced this week they would be liquidating more than 6,000 titles and closing their doors.

"People have so many ways to get movies and TV shows," Jerry Rubenstein said. "We have a lot of customers, but they don't come in as often."

To many, the shuttering of the store is akin to the loss of Oxford Book Store, another Atlanta institution that closed more than a decade ago amid bankruptcy proceedings. But others marveled that Movies Worth Seeing was able to hold on as long as it did, renting classic films and sleeper hits.

For customers who frequented the store, though, the unique level of movie curating and conversation that came with weekly trips to the video store cannot be replaced at remaining Blockbuster locations or Netflix's online list of suggestions.

"It's really like the end of an era," said Marilyn Kempf, who bought more than 40 movies in the liquidation and has been frequenting the store since it opened. "People who are really into films come here."

Movies Worth Seeing isn't the last video rental store in the metro area, but the numbers are dwindling. Rubenstein said there were several hundred mom-and-pops when he first opened in 1985. Now, some stores persist in ethnic communities like Chinatown. Rentals of some movie genres can also be found in stores like Oxford Comics & Games, which rents anime films, or adult novelty stores.

As bookstores added gifts, food and other items to diversify their business, video rental places have largely failed to do so. John Robinson, senior media analyst for BigChampagne and a former Movies Worth Seeing employee, said he's surprised any have survived.

"I'm not sure there is an industry anymore of the bricks-and-mortar rental business," he said. "Since the mid-1990s, there's been a steady stream of distractions."

Those distractions aren't solely limited to other places to get movies, Robinson said, but include an increase in Internet usage that takes time away from movie viewing. Still, Robinson said he thought the increased availability of streaming video was the final nail in the coffin for video stores.

In the past year, Netflix, which offers a catalog of streaming movies and TV shows, has had a 63 percent increase in subscribers to more than 20 million members, spokesman Steve Swasey said. The company's mail-order and streaming services have changed customers' patterns of driving to the video store, he said.

Swasey said he thinks some niche video stores will remain, but that most customers will gravitate toward the easiest way to access the movies they want to see. Convenience is also what draws customers to video kiosks in places like Rite Aid or Publix, said Justin Hotard, general manager of NCR Entertainment. The Duluth self-service technology company owns and operates about 8,000 Blockbuster Express kiosks and has recently tested a higher-priced new release rental that has found success, he said.

"We're bringing the neighborhood video store to a location that's more convenient," Hotard said. "You can do it in a trip you're already taking."

On Wednesday, Movies Worth Seeing was playing "A Place in the Sun," a memorial to Elizabeth Taylor's death. The gray-painted walls, usually covered with DVD boxes, were marked with strips of empty Velcro, sentinels to the movies that had already been sold.

In addition to typical sections for new releases and television series -- both of which are still being rented, for now -- the store has sections for Film Noir, Italian Horror, silent comedy and Polish films.

"It's more of a library, an archive, a film buff's paradise," Rubenstein said. "The hardest part is thinking about it being torn apart."

Rubenstein said making the move from videos to DVDs was a natural one for the store, but that there is no obvious new change that would add new life to the business. The numbers no longer support keeping it open, he said.

With its closure, Videodrome, less than two miles down the street from Movies Worth Seeing in Poncey-Highland, may be the city's last remaining traditional video store. Owner Matt Booth said, like Movies Worth Seeing, he hasn't changed much over the years and doesn't plan to. Both stores rent DVDs for three days for less than $4.

Booth said Videodrome's profitability has decreased over the last several years, but he has no plans to close the store, which he said continues to reflect the desires of the neighborhood. Still, he called video rental a "dinosaur industry."

"I know the store's not going to last forever," he said. "I'm not planning my future on Videodrome."

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.