With the likes of Netflix, Hulu and the never ending online streaming sites, video stores have been closing their doors for the past several years. In the quaint neighbourhood of Champlain Heights, a small video store has held on for as long as they could, but will now be shutting down shop at the end of 2014.
The small strip-mall video store, seated between a laundromat and a hair salon, has been open for the last 30 some odd years and has become a staple for local folks. With Rogers Video and Blockbuster locations not too far away, the neighbourhood still flocked to Champlain Video and this wasn’t because of their selection, but instead because of the manager of the store – Alan Wong.
“I am gratified. I guess the reason they come here was because they liked coming here,” said Wong. “I liked that the main reason they came here, was because it made them happy to come here. I wasn’t a hard seller or anything like that and I also wanted to feel like I could contribute something to life. It doesn’t have to be major, it could just be generally making people happier and I’m satisfied with that.”
I recall many years ago, sitting in my friends living room one Friday evening, when his dad decided it was time to rent a video. He called Alan up and said, “Hey Alan, it’s Jean. What’s in stock and something that I might like?” Thinking to myself, that is really cool. Without any hesitation, it seemed that the manager on the other side of the phone had spouted off a number of titles and my buddy’s dad had made his decision. This was all based on what titles the customer had rented in the past. This was just one of Alan’s skills — if you were a regular and you walked in to the shop, he would greet you with a friendly smile and when you brought your video to the counter he would know your telephone number off by heart.
“I have certain skills of course and I think in life that if you have skills you want to be able to use them,” Wong told Vancity Buzz. “I have a good memory for things and I have a good sense of people. I am just happy I was able to use that and make people’s lives a little bit better and easier and contribute in some way. Once again, I don’t believe that you have to go to Africa and feed the poor, you don’t have to do major things to add to people’s lives. I think if everyone just did a little bit, that’s more important. I’ve always kind of made that a bit of a motto for myself.”
It’s unfortunate that the face to face style shop will no longer be open, not only in Champlain, but in general. This is the day and age we live in, where the general public is so consumed with screen-time and now instead of talking or going into a shop, they stream it or order it online.
“There is going to be the lack of face-to-face interaction, but people value convenience over the face-to-face. Although there are certain people that do value the face-to-face part and that’s why they’re still coming here now. That’s why they kept us afloat all these extra years.”
With the closing of the shop, Alan made it his personal goal to phone his longstanding customers to let them know the news. On December 31, 2014 the Champlain Video doors will close for good, but that doesn’t mean the memory of the store will.
In fact, there are currently 143 members on the ‘Alan from Champlain video fan club’ Facebook group. The group has brought a lot of emotion to Wong.
“I felt I was really lucky. A lot of times in life, you try to be the best person you can and you can only guess at how you have affected people,” Wong said. “It was really hard to describe it; I was getting all of this recognition for just me being a nice person. I didn’t want it; I didn’t expect it, that wasn’t the goal at all. The fact that people wanted to express that in an organized way is fantastic and I’m just extremely lucky that that happened.”
What was Champlain Video to the Champlain Heights community? The answer was simple for the longstanding manager.
“It became a place of comfort for people. It became a place that they felt that they could be recognized and made it feel like a neighbourhood.”
Below are some comments from Champlain Video customers on what the store meant to them.
I remember being able to reserve the movie posters when they came in. Another cool thing was that Alan memorized everyone’s account number. He would allow me to pick up videos on my way home from school and my dad could pay later.
Alan has seen all of us grow up. He’s been there through it all; our wild and rambunctious childhood years, our moody and obnoxious teenage years, and our eventual journey into adulthood. There was not a person he didn’t know, that he didn’t connect with on some level. He could pick you a movie like you wouldn’t believe; for every mood and inclination. And they were goooood. He has been an anchor in our community, and we shall be forever grateful!
There are so many memories that my friends and I share when talking about Champlain Video. The gumball machine where you spent your quarters hoping to get a free movie with a black gumball, hearing classical music playing on cbc radio, watching Alan flip the back of the new release posters on the wall revealing the name of the person who claimed the poster before you could (much to your disappointment). But all those memories include Alan–he is the reason I think people feel so connected to the video store. He went out of his way to help you pick out a movie, let you use the phone to ask if your friend or family member had already watched a particular film, and never needed you to recite your phone number as he had it memorized. It truly is a loss to the Champlain Heights Community.
Alan is god-like! My brother and I grew up going to Champlain Video. My older brothers opened an account there before I was born and he automatically connected us to that account and we still use it. Every time I see him on the bus or sktrain I think to myself, “DUDE! IT’S ALAN! NO WAY!” He is a local hero and should be awarded for his deeds in this community. Alan is Champlain video. You can’t have one without the other.
In a complicated and busy world, here was a place where one could enjoy simple pleasures with knowledgeable, kind and courteous staff. The closing of Champlain video is a loss to our community in specific and our society as a whole.
Alan is a magical wizard who remembers infinite faces and phone numbers. I remember coming in after not being there for years, and he still remembered me and my number without having to ask. Champlain Video was a big part of my childhood and youth, and I will miss it.
CV and Alan redefined the local business experience. You couldn’t get it with Blockbusters or Netflix. But in this case technology won out. However I think there is a space for local business and technology to co-exist, and also thrive.
Alan has known me since before I knew him (since around 1992/93 I believe), and like all of us knew me better than I know myself. Since the first day I met Alan he had my name and phone # memorized. I am reasonably sure he is actually Buddha. He must be moving on to a place of greater need.
Do you have any stories about Champlain Video? Connect with Jeremy on Twitter @JeremyBrand604