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The End of an Era

Anne and Jerry Rubenstein thank many loyal customers for "25 glorious years."

The beginning of the end of started at noon on Monday, when the 25-year-old independent video rental store opened its doors. Just one hour before that, the store sent out a “Going Out of Business" email to more than 2,000 loyal customers. The email a DVD liquidation sale, effective immediately.

Along with new releases and popular television series from both here and abroad, Movies Worth Seeing has boasted the metro area’s best selection of classic, foreign, documentary, obscure and critically acclaimed films.

“We’ve had trouble paying our bills,” said store co-owner Anne Rubenstein, who could not spare a moment to be interviewed on Monday because the store was a-bustle with customers balancing teetering stacks of DVDs they were ready to purchase.

“We didn’t put ourselves out of business,” said Jerry Rubenstein, who with wife Anne opened Movies Worth Seeing in November 1985. “The business model has changed, so we must move on.”

Longtime customer Don Hoyt thought the store closing “might be inevitable," but he "still held out hope."

"Because of the kinds of movies and the exceptional films from around the world that are here, I was hoping they could hold on," Hoyt said. "This place has been a wonderful resource for me.”

He was buying a few dozen DVDs, ranging from “Bambi” (1942) to “The Birth of a Nation” (1915).

Throughout the store, the atmosphere was solemn and bittersweet as customers seemed glad to find certain DVDs available to them, but still had mixed feelings as they helped strip the store.

“Too many people don’t know about a lot of great movies,” said Jason Williams, an Emory graduate and native of the neighborhood. “That’s what this store has been for me, a way to discover great movies.”

“It sucks,” said Ron Hughes, who since 1998 has worked at the store located in the rear section of the Highland Walk retail complex at North Highland Avenue and University Place. “I feel bad for those who came in religiously. I feel bad they have to be dragged into the new century and start getting their movies the impersonal way.”

The impersonal way, of course, means renting via snail-mail (such as through Netflix or Blockbuster’s online arm), or watching a movie or other show instantly on your TV or computer via Netflix, Hulu or through other online means or video services.

Nowadays, most people arrange for their next in-home film by setting a recording or clicking a few buttons online (or through their cable TV service). 

Bottom line: You no longer need to interact with another human to get a movie. It’s not practical to use gas to fetch and return your movies, nor to pay earnest cinephiles such as Ron Hughes to chat about cool movies with you while he processes your rental.

On Monday afternoon, someone got to “Sullivan’s Travels” (with Veronica Lake, 1941), moments before another customer could grab it first. Same thing with David Lean’s darkly romantic “Brief Encounter” (1945).

The Disney classics were being snapped right up. The Woody Allen section was already half empty. Monty Python was getting a lot of action. The Alfred Hitchcock/Brian De Palma section was well picked over by the time John Greene, a longtime teacher at came upon it.

“Ahh, geez, Hitchcock,” he said, with a sigh. “Just as well, I’ve got so many as it is.” He was holding a stack of 25 or so films.

“They have so much here that I have used in my classes over the years,” said Greene, who lives in the Lake Claire neighborhood. “And where will I find these now? How will I just come upon them, the way I’ve come upon so many great movies here over the years?”

Linda Zatlin, who has taught English at Morehouse College for more than 40 years, is equally dismayed over what the store’s shutting down means to her as a film scholar and professor.

“I’m sick,” Zatlin said. “I’m just sick about this. And I’m dumbstruck.” Thankfully, she was able to find “Henry V” (Laurence Olivier’s 1944 version), and “Full Metal Jacket” (Stanley Kubrick, 1987). Both have been excellent rentals for a course she teaches called “War in Literature and Film.”

“I’ve been here every few weeks over so many years,” Zatlin said. “This place has been essential. I tell you, I am sick.”

The Rubensteins expect to be open for another month, maybe two. They’ll keep going until they sell their stock. In the meantime, new releases such as “The Fighter,” along with TV series, are still for rent only and will be sold in the store’s final stages.

“I can’t believe it, it’s just so sad,” said Mary Larkin, a customer for 20 years. “Looks like they are going to force me to do Netflix.”

Larkin walked her dog Oscar to the store on Monday, then spent almost an hour picking out more than 30 movies on DVD. Among them: “West Side Story,” “Hope and Glory,” “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Awful Truth” and the “Brideshead Revisited” series. When asked which movies in her new stash she would watch first, Larkin said it was a tossup: either “Dial M for Murder” (1954) or “Mrs. Miniver” (1942).

Professor Matthew Bernstein, who chairs the Department of Film and Media Studies at , in an email called the closing of Movies Worth Seeing “a sad development for anyone in Atlanta who loves movies, and especially hard to find superlative foreign and American independent films, as well as documentaries and experimental films.”

Longtime neighbor Susan Abramson was not in the store on Monday, but was also sad when she heard the news: “Movies Worth Seeing has been a neighborhood institution,” she said. “The people at the counter were always well-informed and helpful. It was such a great place to go with your kids back in the dark ages of the VCR. We always lose part of our community’s unique identity when a place like Movies Worth Seeing goes out of business.”

Bernstein said it best: “Movies Worth Seeing has been Atlanta’s and Virginia-Highland’s own. We remain very grateful for what they offered the community.  Anyone who loves movies will always remember this store with affection.” 

Movies Worth Seeing is located at 1409 N. Highland Ave. During its final weeks, the new hours are noon-9pm Sunday-Thursday, noon-11pm Friday and Saturday. 404-892-1802; www.moviesworthseeing.com

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