SANTA FE, N.M. — Even with an inventory of 16,000 items, Lisa Harris says she has a mental note of pretty much every video carried in her store.
“I don’t know, I just do this,” Harris, owner and operator of Santa Fe’s Video Library, said when asked how she could keep up with that many DVDs and, yes, VHS offerings.
On Wednesday, Harris spoke about her efforts to keep her old-school business alive while standing among the rows of movie and TV show selections. The Video Library is housed in a 2,000-square-foot space off downtown Paseo de Peralta, behind the Travel Bug store.
Where the shelves have filled up, stacks of movies grow on the floor and in nearby chairs.
“Now, sometimes the hardest part is, I know I own that, but do I own it in VHS? Or Blu-ray? I guess in my head the box art pops up, so if I have this mental image – I know it’s in here somewhere.”
The Video Library, which has been around for nearly 38 years, is billed as Santa Fe’s first, as well as last, video rental store.
At the beginning of the year, the store appeared to be nearing its final scene.
But before anyone could yell “Cut!,” Harris started a crowdfunding campaign to help fight off the rising popularity of streaming services. The goal was to raise $60,000.
A few months in, she says the money donated to the store – about $13,000 – is keeping the business “hanging in there.”
“Right now, things look very good,” said Harris, who clearly hasn’t lost the enthusiasm and lively spirit her staff says she’s always had. “I can breathe again.”
Harris recounted that she was prepared to close the business in January 2017, but she decided not to when she found out her husband, Casey St. Charnez, needed spinal surgery. He does the store’s buying.
“It was just, like, I can’t, (it was) systems overload,” she explained.
Harris says she realized that she would miss the social element of the store. She said she and her regulars talk about movies, as well as also other things going on in their lives.
“I’m a lot of people’s quick-and-easy therapist, I’ll fix your life when you can’t,” she said with a laugh.
A story she heard on National Public Radio about video stores gave her the idea to crowdfund. More than $9,000 has been donated via the GoFundMe page and the rest of the $13,000 collected so far was given in person at the store.
The total is just a fraction of the listed goal, which Harris said was set to be enough to keep the store on solid ground for a year and a half to two years. But Harris said what’s already been donated combined with an “influx” of customers since the campaign kickoff – both newbies and old ones who hadn’t been around for a while – should keep the business up and running for the foreseeable future.
She added that local individuals and organizations, like the Center for Contemporary Arts, have expressed interest in doing Video Library fundraisers.
“It made it so we stayed flush,” she said about the recent support for the store.
The financial difficulties “didn’t go into the realm of horror,” Harris added. But she said “it’s no fun where 3 a.m. every night, (you’re) sweating bullets, saying ‘What’s going to happen, how are you going to stay alive tomorrow?’ ”
Now, she said, “We can say to our customers, ‘Yes we will be here tomorrow, I will see you for your birthday.’ ”
Harris also said that she hasn’t paid herself in about a year to keep the store running, but she was wary of making that detail public because she doesn’t want people to perceive her as whining or seeking pity. “I want to keep the store going because I really enjoy what I do,” she said. “I’ve literally done this my entire adult life.”
The GoFundMe campaign continues and the store is still accepting donations from patrons. The goal is still to raise the full $60,000. Harris said she doesn’t want to get back into a bad place several months from now.
Aside from paying the bills, Harris said the recent fundraising allows the store to increase advertising to remind people that it’s still here. She emphasized that she wants steady business to be the reason the Video Library’s doors stay open.
“There’s nothing we would like better than for none of this to matter any more, and we just have people coming in and it just cut along as it should,” said Harris.
‘More than just a place to get movies’
In 1981, then-21-year-old Harris opened Video Library on Marcy Street, in a spot near the downtown library. Nine years ago, it moved into its current location in the Harvey Center shopping center at 839 Paseo de Peralta
She estimated that at one point there must have been a dozen video rental shops in Santa Fe.
“But, you know, back in the ’80s, everybody put in a rack of videos,” she said. “Every vacuum cleaner shop had a video rack. It’s kind of like CBD (cannabidiol) is now.”
In Harris’ words, the store is “so not of this century.” To this day, the Video Library still doesn’t use computers. During a transaction, staff members pull out individual file cards for each customer that includes their rental history and due dates.
“I only finally got a phone I could text (with) because I had to remind people if something was late,” Harris said.
She said she doesn’t want to disappoint her patrons, mostly middle-aged or older residents who aren’t interested in using the internet to find entertainment or just enjoy the face-to-face interaction. And some of them live near the mountains and don’t have WiFi.
But the store does see millennials looking to rent or buy from its selection of 1,000 VHS tapes, which she said are undergoing a resurgence in “hipster” communities, similar to the comeback of vinyl records.
Movie buffs of all ages, she said, visit to look for a specific foreign film or documentary, or just to find something new.
“It’s like finding a good book store or, in the old days, a good music store, record stores, and the stuff you didn’t know existed (is) the coolest stuff you can find.”
Though the Video Library has recent releases and mainstream movies, on its Facebook page, the store describes itself as a carrier of “rare, out-of-print, hard-to-find” selections. Different crowds are drawn to different genres. One of the popular sections right now is international television, with offerings ranging from popular British murder mysteries to more obscure Scandinavian shows, said staff members Luke Henley and Devin Horne.
Movies and TV shows are divided among subjects like horror, musicals, documentary and children’s. One shelf is specifically for movies filmed entirely or partially in New Mexico. There are sections for famous directors like Charlie Chaplin or Alfred Hitchcock.
Of the 16,000 DVDs, Blu-Rays and VHS tapes, Harris estimated 6,000 aren’t available online.
The store has become a “go-to” for Lynn Walters and her husband when they run out of things to watch. Walters, who moved to Santa Fe from San Francisco about three months ago, stopped at Video Library last week to pick up DVDs of the spy drama “The Americans,” which ended its six-season run on FX last year. There’s only a handful of movie and TV selections available through her Amazon Prime account that she likes, and Walters said she goes through those quickly. Other times, she said, slow internet service gets in the way.
“It’s convenient,” Walters said. “These guys know everything about what we want. We don’t even have to go through the stacks.”
Helping recommend movies or TV to customers is a main part of the job, according to the staff. “It’s more than just a place to get movies,” said Henley. “You can go to Redbox if you just want movies, but if you actually care about what you’re watching, and you care about the people that really want you to see something special instead of just fill your time, I think that’s what’s important about this place.”
‘Tangible is good’
That personal element is one of the reasons Fran Tarver keeps coming in. The 22-year Santa Fe resident recently picked up the 2018 Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” as well as recently released dramas “Operation Finale” and “A Private War.”
Tarver said her children bought her a Roku player to stream shows and movies, but she said it’s still sitting in her closet.
“I tried Netflix one time and I thought that just took me hours,” she said. “If you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, you’re just scrolling through there forever.”
Beyond her personal preferences, Tarver – who works at a gift shop downtown – said she wants to support local entrepreneurs and brick-and-mortar stores. “It’s tough out there,” she added.
“I realize it’s a changing world out there,” Harris chimed in, “but tangible is good sometimes.”