Potomac Video Closing, the Last of a Breed

Jason Dick
Posted April 16, 2014 at 4:37pm

The last Potomac Video storefront, a once-sprawling regional video rental empire, will be closing its Avalon location at 5536 Connecticut Ave. NW at the end of May.  

(Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)
(Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

In an announcement made via its Facebook page, management confirmed the bad news. “As many of you have already heard, I sadly must announce that Potomac Video will be closing its doors for good at the end of May. Thank you to all for your loyalty and support. It’s been an honor to bring the best in world cinema to you. Please stop on by to buy some of our inventory or just to say goodbye! We’d love to see everyone. You are what we’ll miss the most!”  

Once it’s gone, that’ll be it for full-service video rental stores in Washington, D.C.  

Potomac Video was always known as a great resource for both cinephiles and casual movie-watchers. Once, while writing a story about political pictures, I was stumped in finding a copy of  Franklin J. Schaffner’s “The Best Man,” a 1964 film starring Henry Fonda and  Cliff Robertson based on Gore Vidal’s play. It was nowhere to be found online and hadn’t found its way into any kind of reliable DVD or Blu-ray rotation. But the MacArthur Boulevard location of Potomac Video had a copy — in VHS.  

They took pride into holding onto such artifacts and amassed a catalog of some 50,000 titles by the time the closure notice went out on April 10. This made them out of step with the times, when movies and music are stored digitally, and as the economics of the movie industry moved steadily away from bricks and mortar. For those interested in some of those 50,000 titles, in VHS, Blu-ray or DVD, they’re all for sale.  

The kind of attention to detail the staff gave at Potomac Video, whether it was through their categorizations by director, the extensive cult movie section, the staff picks, made it a place you could feel the passion for the movies. That’s something that doesn’t come through as well on Netflix or Amazon Prime.  

Perhaps video rental and sales stores will figure out a new model, like the bookstores and record stores have found new life in some quarters. Potomac Video’s website had long featured staff picks, blog posts, movie news and the like, an attempt to reach out to the community. For now, though, this is just sad, as the lights go out on the last of a breed.  

It’s a point hammered home by the receipt you get from a Potomac Video purchase — which comes out on a dot-matrix printer.