Just an Average Evening at D.C.’s Actual Last Video Rental Store
Chevy Chase's Potomac Video is shutting down, and the eulogies have had an extra touch of cultural dejection. Last week, DCist published a nice read chronicling the "final days at D.C.'s last video rental store," while just yesterday, the Washington Post ran a long piece on Potomac Video under the headline, "After 33 years, Washington's last video store closes its doors."
While the tissues may be appropriate—thanks to its knowledgeable staff, Potomac Video was a wonderful store—the word "last" is not. There's still one other (nonadult!) video rental store in D.C., and while it may not be flourishing, it definitely still exists. Woodner Video Rental lies on the first floor of the Woodner Apartments on the 3600 block of 16th Street NW in Mount Pleasant, and has been there for about 20 years. The store is open to residents of the building as well as anyone else.
When it was completed in 1952, the Woodner was, according to its website, the largest air-conditioned building in the world. It now has more than 1,000 residential units and has a grocery store and dry cleaner. The video rental store is owned by Elias Tobe, who purchased the shop from its previous owner about two years ago.
The store has about 1,000 videos, including blockbuster releases, and has a section of imported Ethiopian movies, which Tobe says attracts Ethiopian people from across D.C. who do not live in the building. The aisles of DVDs currently occupy a little more than half of the store, as Tobe has allotted an increasing amount of space to more lucrative uses like cell phone repairs, greeting cards, and the D.C. lottery.
On a rainy Monday evening, there are four longtime residents hanging out, none of whom are renting videos. Instead, they're here to play the D.C. lottery.
David Ezel, who has lived in the building for eight years, goes to the store every day to play Keno, and says he takes home a $400 jackpot at least once a week. "This is a social place, a lot of us will come down here," says Ezel, who suggests that Tobe convert the shop into a Gamblers Anonymous lounge.
"I'd be a good customer of Gamblers Anonymous," jokes Barbara Theodore, who's lived in the Woodner for more than 40 years and visits the shop to play the lottery every day. Theodore says she'll occasionally rent a video, though she did so more frequently when her daughter was growing up. Ronald Moten—not that Ron Moten—won $290 Monday evening; he says he doesn't have Netflix and does rent movies from the store, most recently American Hustle.
"I've won some good money here, really good money," Moten says.
Unsurprisingly, Tobe says he's not making much money off the video rental portion of the store. It costs $3 to rent a video for 3 days with a $1 late fee per video per day. If you rent two videos, the third is free. If you don't live in the building, there's a $20 deposit.
Tobe says he rents about 10 to 15 videos on a weekday and about 25 on a busy weekend day. Tobe says he's considering converting the space into an Internet cafe at some point. "I'd like to be loyal to the video store," he says. "But when you're not making any money, you have to convert it."
Photos by Perry Stein