I've penned a few thousand reviews, interviews and features since contributing my first Creative Loafing video-review column as a freelancer back in 1988, but this still remains one of my favorite stories. At a point when Blockbuster outlets and online websites were putting mom-and-pop movie rental stores out of business at an alarming rate, this article took readers on a cinematic tour of Charlotte, sniffing out all the alternatives to Blockbuster. We examined eight venues that either specialized in movies or offered them on the side, including the Carniceria La Mexicana grocery store on South Boulevard, the Family Christian Stores shop on Pineville-Matthews Road, a New Age-y place called The Rainbow Path on East Boulevard, and the LGBT-friendly White Rabbit Books & Things on Central Avenue.
The biggest benefit of the story was introducing many readers to Visart Video, which had yet to make its mark as a Queen City keeper. At a time when Blockbuster continued to dominate the Readers' Pick for best video store in our Best of Charlotte issues, it was important to get the word out about this remarkable rental shop.
Mission seemingly accomplished: "I had no idea such places existed in Charlotte," wrote a reader on our Letters page two issues later. "I will be spending so much time at Visart (they have an Ingmar Bergman shelf!)."
Yet the most fascinating aspect of doing this piece was the rejection I received from a few ethnic stores, including an Indian place on South Boulevard, a Vietnamese store on Central Avenue and a Chinese shop on that same strip. Nobody at these venues wanted to talk to me, and I wondered in the story, "Was it because I was an outsider pushing my way into their self-contained worlds, offering them publicity and exposure they clearly didn't want?" Culturally, something obviously fell between the cracks — I was like Radio Raheem (less profane, of course) confronting the Korean grocers in Do the Right Thing — and I may never know the answer to that question.