Inside D.C. entertainment

Correction:

An earlier version of this story stated that only one of the eight video stores identified by the City Paper doesn't rent adult films. The correct number is two, as one Blockbuster location remains in Eastern Market.

Porn outlasts Blockbuster

August 17, 2010 - 12:53 PM
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Whatever he's watching, he didn't rent it from Blockbuster. (Photo: Associated Press)

The news yesterday that the Blockbuster Video in Adams Morgan is closing set off a debate between the City Paper and TBD over how many video stores remain in the District. City Paper counted eight, including adult-only locations. TBD, being a less lascivious publication, counted only the four stores that don't specialize in titles like Palin: Erection 2008. Who's right? I couldn't care less. What's more interesting is that, of the eight stores identified by the City Paper, only two of them don't stock adult titles  — the Blockbuster in Eastern Market, and the one store that really should, given its name, carry porn: Woodner Video.

Maybe, then, the secret to staying alive in the brick-and-mortar video rental business is to load your shelves with skin flicks.

(After the jump: one weird conversation, plus a couple of normal ones.)

I call one of the stores subject to the aforementioned debate, the Capital Video Sales location near Dupont Circle (they also have a store near Stanton Park), and I'm told to contact owner Jimmy Townsend. When I call the number given to me, a man answers, "This is Jim." I tell him who I am, and what I'm writing about. When he balks, I ask if he's Jimmy Townsend, and he insists he isn't, saying Townsend will be back in a few days. I ask for a cell phone number.

"Can you fax me something?" he asks.

"I don't have a fax machine," I say. "You don't have his number?"

"Can you mail something?"

Sure, I can do that. I ask for Townsend's email.

"Oh no, I don't have that." He explains that he meant mail.

"As in, the Postal Service?"

"Yeah."

I convince him to take a message, which requires sitting through a half-minute of muffled voices, slamming doors, rumbling trucks, an incessant beeping, and finally the familiar rattle of pens and pencils spilling out onto a table.

OK then! I try Lamont Video in Mount Pleasant. There's a language barrier, but I'm able to confirm that they carry porn, and that it costs 50 cents more than untainted titles. A clerk at Royce's Video confirms their adult selection, but won't say more. I also try outside the District, hoping to track down the owner of MVC Late Night, an adult video store with major market penetration in Northern Virginia. No luck.

I do, however, get Matt McNevin on the line. He's the general manager of all six Potomac Video locations, including two in D.C. and one in Bethesda. Although he estimates his stock to be around 3 percent adult, it's a consistent performer that sustains other niches. "I've always looked at it as, the adult room will help us get a few more foreign films, a few more independents," he says. "It's the same numbers, week after week.... That's always been the business appeal for porn — there's a steady demand for it." (Adult titles are slightly marked up at his stores, too, by 45 cents.)

A representative of the Free Speech Coalition, the trade association of the adult entertainment industry, did not return my call, but I spoke to Sean Bersell, spokesman for the Entertainment Merchant Association, which represents the home entertainment industry (from independent stores to Blockbuster and Netflix). While the EMA doesn't specialize in adult stores, he acknowledges that, "historically, a lot of mom-and-pop video stores had a small adult room in back." As independent stores face competition from chains, kiosks, and online subscription services, some have relied on diversification to stay afloat, he says, "and one way some independent video stores have distinguished themselves is to carry adult."

Blockbuster, which has a subscription service of its own, has never carried adult films or even NC-17, and that, says McNevin, "came back to bite them." I called the company to see if, as a way of keeping their stores alive, they've considered including such titles as Tiger's Wood, but none of my messages — surprise, surprise — were returned.

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