When I was a kid, the video rental store was a big deal. It was part of any good weekend night or sleepover, and graduating from PG to PG-13 was a rite of passage. The video store was my generation’s soda fountain. And somehow, in the age of Hulu and Netflix and Redbox, only a handful of video stores are left standing. Jet Video occupies a corner store on Pleasant Avenue. It’s not only a video store – it sells scoops of ice cream and has a sizable US post office kiosk.
Jamie, one of the co-owners, doesn’t have Facebook or a smart phone. She isn’t into that kind of stuff. The shop is about an analog life: going into a store to find a movie to take home, mailing a package to a faraway friend, the taste of something sweet.
HOW DID YOU BEGIN WORKING AT THE VIDEO STORE?
My partner Evan had worked here for a few years and he was approached by the owners at that time, they were interested in selling the business and they asked him, “Do you want to buy the store or know anybody?” He was just finishing school so it was really good timing, so we just took a big leap and signed on. We really, really value a democratic economy and the work of cooperatives, so we’ve been working to transition into that.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT THE CO-OPERATIVE MODEL
We really try to find other businesses that are small because there are a lot of worker cooperatives that are large and they have different systems. Consensus making processes and meetings would look really different with big companies. There’s a cafe out in Portland, Oregon, that we looked at a lot. Basically, everybody has shared ownership. When you start working here, after about a year, you can decide if you want to buy in and hold a share – everybody holds a share – and once you do, you have whole voting and decision-making rights.
In some cooperatives you can actually buy, put in some money, but here we do some sweat equity hours, so you can just take some of the hours out of your weekly pay or however you want to do it and once you’re done, you own part of the business. Then we do bi-weekly business meetings where we make decisions together and we are working on making a workable consensus process. None of us have ever done this before, so it’s really interesting to learn together and figure out what works best for us as a group and what works best for the business. The business has been here as a video store for 20 years, I think. And really, the customers determine what we do, too. We owe it to them to make it a good place.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE RUNNING A VIDEO STORE IN A WORLD OF NETFLIX AND HULU?
We get that a lot, especially from people who do not come in here, haven’t been in here before. There’s always been competitors like Blockbuster, Movie Gallery. Those actually are not here anymore so we don’t have to compete with them. I think there’s just going to be a place for a small video store. It’s a more flexible business model in a way because we can grow and change depending on what people want and need. The neighborhood really supports us. Being able to actually be here behind the counter and see the entire neighborhood come through and have conversations with them about movies and what they like – we don’t have a whole lot of opportunities to do that anymore, so we like being able to provide something like that.
DO YOU HAVE “REGULARS”?
Yes. We have a lot of really wonderful regulars. There’s one guy who comes in and we end up just getting into the most extreme joke making. We just take things way too far. There’s one boy who comes here all the time and he always goes to the horror section and I always have to talk to his mom and ask,”Is this okay?” But he comes in like every other day and it’s really cool to actually be a little part of customer’s routine. Also, the little kids are very entertaining. And we definitely have a lot of huge dogs come in here. We’re very dog-friendly.
WHAT ARE THE WAYS YOU’VE CONTINUED OR FOSTERED THAT SENSE OF NEIGHBORHOOD AND COMMUNITY?
Well I think just having consistency. Everybody who works here is consistently here and they know the customers. Some people who work here have been here for 10 years and they know so many people in the neighborhood. I think it’s just building relationships. If somebody comes in and they’re looking for something, it’s important to make sure that you follow up with them and then the next time they come in have a conversation about what they thought of the movie. You get to know people’s tastes and you can recommend things based on what you know they like, and they really like that. You’re really just taking care of them.
TELL ME ABOUT THE ICE CREAM AND THE POST OFFICE SIDE OF THIS PLACE
Selling ice cream, it gets really crazy in here in the summer and it’s just a party atmosphere all the time. It’s really fun. We get a lot of families that come in. It’s actually one of the easiest ways to make somebody happy because you’re just handing them ice cream and they’re always extremely excited. The post office has a whole history of its own. The neighborhood petitioned to keep it here when the previous people retired. So we definitely do that for the neighborhood. It can get very crazy during the holiday seasons. It’s probably one of the most challenging aspects because we’re interacting with the United States Post Office.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE MOVIE?
That’s a good question. Let’s see, I really like “Julie and Julia,” that’s just one of my comfort movies I guess. Then “Donnie Darko,” I really like that movie. I like a lot of weird, surreal movies, David Lynch.
IS THERE A MOVIE YOU FIND YOURSELF RECOMMENDING OVER AND OVER?
I think it really depends on the customer. I really liked one of the recent ones: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” I watched that recently, so I’m recommending it a lot. People seem really skeptical, but I tell them, “That’s a really good movie, just take a chance on it.”
IS IT REALLY REWARDING WHEN PEOPLE COME BACK AND THEY LIKE SOMETHING YOU RECOMMENDED?
Yes. They say, “I watched this because of you and it was really good.”
WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU HAVE YOUR SOCIAL WORK DEGREE? WILL YOU BE HERE LESS?
I won’t have it for another couple of years, so we’ll see what happens after that, but I consider this place part of it. In social work there’s micro and macro experience, so I kind of consider this some macro experience because it is very policy-oriented: working with people in an organization. But I’m going to see what’s out there after that, I guess.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU IN YOUR LIFE?
I think social justice and personal integrity. Those themes keep coming up in my life which is why I’m studying social work.
WHAT IS A LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN YOUR LIFE OR ARE LEARNING RIGHT NOW?
I think that conflict creates healthy tension that empowers people to do their own work and make positive changes. Conflict is not a bad thing.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
I think the people that I get to be involved with, friends and family, and then also the personal fulfillment of being involved in social work. It’s a very personally fulfilling field.
WHAT IS THE GREATEST STRUGGLE?
The process of being confronted with the conflict and constantly trying to work on myself. But it’s good. It’s a struggle but it’s also good.
IF YOU HAD A MANTRA OR MOTTO FOR YOUR LIFE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Everyone is inherently a good person. It’s a very humanist point of view.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
Eating good food and drinking smoothies in the morning!