Island Entertainment on Martha's Vineyard – the sequel
Photo by Ralph Stewart
Island Entertainment — the last holdout among Vineyard video stores — has moved.
Earlier this month the store relocated next to their former neighbor Radio Shack just across State Road from the plaza that formerly housed both businesses. Though they have downsized a little in terms of square footage, the quarter century old business is bucking the trend and hanging tough against a tide of video rental business closings, which have left noticeable gaps in the strip mall landscape around the world.
While others, including all the major chains, are closing their doors forever in response to the popularity of mail order video outlets such as Netflix and digital streaming resources, Island Entertainment has remained a viable business. That's due in large part to the fact that, to the owner and employees of Island Entertainment, film is not just a business, it's a passion.
On a recent visit to the new store, a constant stream of customers kept the staff busy. Some customers asked for recommendations, others shared their opinions or asked about arrival dates for new releases.
Ask any of the staff members a movie-related question and you'll most likely get more than you bargained for. At least one member of the staff watches every film that comes in each Tuesday in a highly anticipated weekly delivery. And all can talk at length on not just plot and performances, but all types of film facts.
Sian Williams of West Tisbury stopped in to drop off a couple of films. She says that she rents about four movies a week. Like a good number of Vineyarders she doesn't have cable TV so movies are her family's entertainment option. She also likes the hands-on experience.
"We did Netflix and I didn't see these guys for about a year and I hated it," she said. "I didn't get to see [employees] Chelsea and Jamie. They know what I like. I like the personal touch. They're all intelligent people who work here."
Before Anne Evasick took over the business seven years ago, she started as a part-time employee at the store just a couple of years after it opened in 1986 on Union Street in downtown Vineyard Haven. At that time, Ms. Evasick was managing the movie theater chain that includes the Capawock, Island, Strand, and formerly a movie theater above the Edgartown Town Hall. She held that job for 14 years.
"I got to see all the movies from 1979 to 1991," she said. "I can tell you anything you need to know about any of those movies." For earlier vintage movies, Jamie Alley, who has been with the store for 20 years, is the resource. "I think that between Jamie and I, we've got everything covered. He's a big fan of the classic movies." She added, " I think we've seen more than we would care to admit."
Ms. Evasick believes that the staff's shared passion is what has kept the business afloat. "We were able to hold our own just because Jamie and I both know movies and love movies. We're in charge of our own buying. We know our customers."
The store currently carries 26,000 titles. Although you will always find the most popular new releases and TV shows, what sets Island Entertainment apart from other video outlets is the selection of documentaries and classic, foreign and indie films, as well as lesser known kids films. Unlike operators of chain stores, she has flexibility in what she purchases.
"We get a lot of things that don't come to the theaters here," Mr. Alley said. "We've always prided ourselves on bringing in the sort of thing that's not the major studio material."
Mr. Alley is a virtual walking encyclopedia of early film. He enjoys the old classics and other early films, which while less well known, feature exceptional writing and performances. He also admits to a weakness for what he calls go-go films — bizarre comedic romps from the 60s and 70s.
Not only can he give you highly entertaining and insightful mini reviews of old films, Mr. Alley can also expound at length on the movie industry and changes in the nature of films.
Although disappointed in the direction of more recent movies, he watches as many as possible, often on the store's TV, which is always showing a film. "I try to at least get the general idea and tone of the movie. I'm better educated, and every once in a while you find a little surprise."
Ms. Evasick in involved with both of the local film festivals (M.V. Film Festival and M.V. Film Society). She notes that she tries to stock all of the selections that are screened by both. In the front of the store is a rack of films that features a changing theme. Currently, Bond films are on display. Often it's another topical theme or a selection of Mr. Alley's picks.
Like the old store, the décor of the new space is defined by kitsch. There are old movie posters and lots of Elvis memorabilia. The three-foot reproduction of Michelangelo's David that had been a fixture outside the old store will soon be replaced with a brand-new incarnation. The last of a long line of Davids is currently in Ms. Williams's home. She was presented with the statue — which was somewhat the worse for wear — after the store moved.
It's an appropriate home for the iconic statue since Ms. Williams is among the store's many loyal followers. "It's one of those intrinsically Island places and there's nothing generic about it," she said. "I always try to support Island businesses."
For more information, visit Island Entertainment at 426 State Road in Vineyard Haven, call 508-693-7441, or search Island Entertainment on Facebook.com.