Paul Neubauer chokes up when he recalls the day the staff of a nearby Blockbuster video store that was going out of business visited his shop to pay tribute.
“They came in, stood in a semi-circle and said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the last one standing. You beat out the chains,’” Neubauer told me, smiling at the memory.
In the age of streaming video, Neubauer is a survivor: an old-fashioned, brick-and-mortar video store owner whose shop, Crazy Nick's Video, appears to be the last area video store still standing.
That won’t be the case for much longer.
The Schenectady fixture is closing down, a decision driven not so much by market trends as COVID-19.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shutdown of non-essential businesses exempts those that can be run by one employee, and Crazy Nick’s has remained open throughout the pandemic.
But in early April Neubauer fell sick, and was later diagnosed with coronavirus.
His nephew manned the store while he quarantined and recovered, but the soon-to-be-84-year-old took his illness as a message. In the past year, he’d begun thinking about when to call it quits, and COVID-19 seemed like the sign he was looking for.
“I would talk to God, and I would tell him, ‘Give me a sign when it’s time to go,’ and he did,” said Neubauer, a soft-spoken man with a friendly gleam in his eye.
To call it the end of an era doesn’t seem quite right.
After all, the video store era ended some time ago, which makes Crazy Nick’s longevity all the more remarkable.
“I have a great customer base,” Neubauer said.
I haven’t been to a video store in years, having turned to Netflix (I remain a loyal user of the company’s DVD-by-mail service) and niche streaming platforms like the Criterion Channel to meet my cinematic needs.
But I’m still sad to see Crazy Nick’s go to video store heaven.
I once spent countless hours wandering the aisles of video stores and scanning the shelves for movies to take home and watch, and visiting Neubauer and his shop brought back fond memories.
Much as I love being able to access movies in my living room with the click of a button, I can’t help but wonder whether we lose something when local video stores shut down. Neubauer clearly offered his customers more than movies.
“Sometimes people would come in just to talk about me,” he said. “I learned to have compassion for the people who came in. … Maybe they had problems. I’m a good listener.”
Crazy Nick’s has between 10,000-12,000 movie titles, most of them movies produced in the past two decades.
But there are plenty of classics - “The Searchers,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Poltergeist” - and a decent mix of independent films. Every genre is represented, and there’s a nice selection of family films.
Crazy Nick’s opened for business in 1987.
Neubauer went to work for the store, located on Broadway in the city’s Bellevue neighborhood, in 1989. He had been working at a local bank, but decided to apply for a job at Crazy Nick’s in response to an ad. The job was a good fit.
In 1995 he purchased the store, and has owned it ever since.
Neubauer was given a clean bill of health at the end of April, and hopes to close Crazy Nick’s at the end of the month.
His inventory is for sale, and people are welcome to swing by and take a look.
“This has been my world,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I appreciate all the support through the years. I appreciate everybody.”
“It’s been a thrill to own this business. I hate to let it go.”
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.