Mark Vrieling and his daughter Zoe. "I wish we weren't going away..."
At Large In Ballard: Raining tears
By Peggy Sturdivant
“I wish I wasn’t going away too,” Mark Vrieling, owner of Rain City Video said, hearing yet another customer lament the closing of the 32nd NW location. The Vrielings started Rain City Video 29 years ago and have outlasted most rental businesses that had aa storefront.
And what a beloved storefront…from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily the Sunset Hill location has been a neighborhood destination since 1990. Snow days, rainy nights, the all-important “Two for One” nights and the joy of having punches remaining. It is a mainstay, a crutch during flu season and break-ups, a meeting place for singles and even dogs, with a depth of selection that crosses decades, continents and all genres. “Never a rainy day,” boasts the mural on the north side.
“Go get a damn video,” Kim Paxton at Walter’s told her daughter when she was growing up in the neighborhood. It was the perfect excuse to get out of the house, (or get someone out of the house), and the envy of anyone who didn’t live within walking distance of one of the best-stocked video stores in the country (even when they were plentiful).
Zoe Vrieling was born in 1990, the same year as the Sunset Hill location. “I was practically born here,” she said. In fact my parents met my birth mom here. I’m adopted,” she explained.
So when her dad, owner Mark Vrieling says that he wishes the brick-and-mortar location wasn’t going away, he really, really means it. Their two children are products of the location, by way of the friendship with a customer. If this were the plot of movie would it be filed in Family, Comedy or Drama? (I’ll go with “Staff Picks”).
While completing her Master’s in Environmental Education Zoe Vrieling is co-managing the store, along with longtime manager Ray. She claims, “If I wasn’t family I don’t know if anyone would have hired me.” She credits her movie knowledge to upbringing, rather than the passion that her father in particular has for film. Her favorites are “Princess Bride,” “Harold & Maude,” and “Lord of the Rings.”
Zoe Vrieling was the one who posted the news of the store closure on Facebook; within a day the post had been seen 3000 times. Since then former employees and longtime customers have stopping by to mourn its departure. Rain City Video will keep honoring the punches and even renting through April 3, 2017. Then they will close their doors for a few days before re-opening to sell the inventory. A letter to customers on the raincityvideo.com website cites pride “at the sense of community we have built around this store.”
After downsizing from three stores Mark Vrieling had hoped to keep the Sunset Hill location open. “We took a hit when Netflix came along but we kept thinking it would level off. Just a little bit more business and we would still be breaking even, but…”
“It’s just not viable anymore,” Zoe Vrieling said.
The business name is a reference to the alias for Seattle in the Alan Rudolph film, “Trouble in Mind.” “I met him once,” Vrieling said of the director. “He wanted to know if the name was from his movie. I told him ‘yes.’ “Trouble in Mind” is one of Mark Vrieling’s favorites, along with “Bladerunner.”
Although the Vrielings did live in Ballard in the beginning they have since moved to Bainbridge Island and now the islad of Maui where they have a bed and breakfast. Mark Vrieling also has a video streaming company called Screenplay. Along with a partner he has secured a patent that will allow videos to be saved for future viewing, without copying. His vision is to allow Rain City fans to have future access to all of the titles currently available in-store (over 30,000). There’s a sign-up sheet in-store for those who want have updates about what’s to be called cinefile.tv. As their website says (along with listing their entire inventory), “It would be our pleasure to be your on-line video store.” Clearly his passionate love of movies is far from over.
The Vrielings don’t know who will occupy their former location after the end of April. Rain City will refund unused punches after April 3 and have already started a sale of multiple copies of any recording.
They didn’t post a sign on the window, preferring the news to be staggered. Already it’s a stream of folks apologizing for being part of the decline of the business (okay, maybe that was just me) and telling them how much they will be missed. Knowing in our bones that Rain City Video couldn’t last forever doesn’t help much.
It was just the right distance to send kids on their own, for folks to leave the dogs outside on weekend nights, to find whatever was needed, even if it was just the excuse to leave the house for a few minutes.
Rain City Video was our third place, our home base. “I hope whatever moves in is as family friendly,” Zoe Vrieling said. She wants that for neighborhood and I want that for her, because it’s where it’s where her nuclear family was born and a neighborhood family has flourished.