There is a story Russell Williams likes to tell about his favorite video store. It was the mid-1990s, and Mr. Williams, a Seattle computer game executive, was searching for a place to rent vintage films. He was thrilled to find a store called Taboo, then realized it offered only adult movies. He sniffed at the local Blockbuster, which mainly stocked mainstream fare. One day, he passed a small storefront plastered with brightly lit posters. His curiosity was piqued.
He had stumbled upon Scarecrow, a video emporium founded by a Greek immigrant named George Latsios, who had amassed a collection of cultural ephemera and hard-to-find films.
Inside, Mr. Williams found VHS cassette tapes of Yoko Ono and John Lennon when they were co-hosts on “The Mike Douglas Show” in 1972. He found a 1907 silent film adaptation of Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” And he also came across a 1953 copy of “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,” the only live-action fantasy film written by Dr. Seuss. (Yes, that Dr. Seuss.)
“It began my love affair with Scarecrow,” Mr. Williams said in a recent interview. So much so that his wife teases when he stops there on his way home from work. “I go in, and I’m there for two hours,” he said. “It’s like spelunking. You find treasure after treasure.”
Consider Quentin Tarantino, who learned movie history as a video store clerk himself in the 1980s. Once video stores were the only place cinephiles could find favorite films after they left theaters. Then came the internet. The rise of online streaming services was a convenience for movie lovers, but it spelled, too, the end of an era. Last month, Blockbuster, which used to operate 9,000 stores, announced that only one remained, in Bend, Ore.
As for Scarecrow, it survived bankruptcy, the threat of closing and the death of its charismatic founder. In 2014, it became a nonprofit. And now, after 30 years, with more than 132,000 titles — many on VHS, laser disc and DVD — it is as much a cultural warehouse as anything else.
And that gives Kate Barr, Scarecrow’s president, pause. Film lovers today have access to a prescribed number of movies on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, and other niche channels. Old treasures — many of which are unavailable online because of rights issues or technological hurdles — are being locked away, forgotten or even destroyed.
Of Scarecrow, Ms. Barr said, “We will fight to the death to keep this open.”
Sure, most people no longer want to trudge to the video store on a Friday night, as they once did in droves. Streaming movies are available through on-demand cable, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and many other sources. But the emphasis tends to be on current titles, or TV series. Netflix, which pioneered renting DVDs by mail and streaming, has been moving steadily into original programming, for example.
Ms. Barr worries that a dearth of vintage movies means voices from earlier generations won’t be heard. She points to…
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