While students took a break from studying to watch “Stranger Things” or one of the other nearly 2,500 television series on Netflix during finals last month, Bart D’Alauro ’95 was packing up “E.T.,” an inspiration for “Stranger Things” and the 38,000 other discs that composed his now-closed DVD rental store on Maine Street. Though ultimately unable to compete with streaming services, Bart & Greg’s DVD Explosion!, one of the state’s last DVD rental stores, was a fixture of Brunswick for a remarkable 15 years, serving as a community hub, an aide to Bowdoin academics and, for D’Alauro, an unexpected chance to embrace his passion for the art form he has long admired.
“There isn’t a movie industry anymore. It’s a TV industry,” D’Alauro said, when we met behind the circulation desk during his Monday night shift at Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. D’Alauro initially took a part-time circulation assistant position at the Library nearly three years ago to help foot the cost of store rent and has been full-time since August. “I wasn’t necessarily shocked or upset that a new technology forced me to close my business down, it was more that people have stopped watching movies.”
One can imagine the vast library of movies inside of D’Alauro’s mind. Reserved and understated when asked, D’Alauro—who a number of student library employees did not know owned a DVD rental store—reveals a deep knowledge and love of films and the industry.
“[Around 1985] we got our first VCR, and I rented “Short Circuit” from the local video store on VHS,” said D’Alauro. “I remember bringing it home and watching it twice in a row because I could.”
D’Alauro, who had owned the store alone since his partner Greg Morris moved away, helped his first customers buy their first DVD players, recommended titles and generously gave DVDs to Bowdoin faculty members who needed them for a course.
True to his quiet manner, D’Alauro understood that sometimes the customer—whether resident, Bowdoin faculty, staff or, in the days before streaming, student—needed to discover titles for themselves. This experience, like that of browsing in a bookstore, remains irreplicable online, noted Professor of Cinema Studies Tricia Welsch, who taught D’Alauro during his time at Bowdoin and was also proudly one of his first customers.
After Portland’s Videoport closed in 2015 and Bath’s River Bottom Video, D’Alauro’s second business venture, closed this past fall, Bart & Greg’s was one of the last DVD rental stores standing in Maine. Aside from Redbox movie rental kiosks, Belfast’s Opera House Video and Portland’s Jet Video are the only other operating DVD rental stores in the area that D’Alauro knows.
“I thought we’d be out of business a lot more quickly than it happened,” D’Alauro said. He attributed their survival to not only the “small-town vibe” of Brunswick, where residents are particularly supportive of independent businesses, but also the town’s older customer base who did not convert to new technology as quickly or as fully as the younger generation.
Welsch laments that, despite convenience, the “commercially-organized” streaming services cannot compare in quantity nor in quality to brick-and-mortar DVD stores like Bart & Greg’s. She noted, for example, she has not been able to find this year’s Oscar-nominated foreign films online.
“We have just literally traded the bird in the hand for the one in the bush that might be going away,” said Welsch. “Anything that’s on streaming services now isn’t guaranteed to stay there.”
“There’s a myth out there that everything’s digitized—whether books, printed material, or video—and it’s not,” said Marjorie Hassen, Director of the Library. “DVDs are very important because there’s material there that’s not available any other way and probably won’t be for a long time.”
Bart & Greg’s closing moreover signals a greater loss of community.
“You would meet your friends, your neighbors, your students, talk about what you were renting,” said Welsch.
“You had to visit some of the top video stores to understand what an amazing place [Bart & Greg’s] was,” said Barry Norman, owner of Eveningstar Cinema, the independent movie theater that neighbors Bart & Greg’s former location on the first floor of the Tontine Mall.
D’Alauro, who lives in Brunswick with his family, has been part of the community for a long time. Fascinated with “Star Wars,” and later foreign films and the work of the Coen brothers, while growing up in Albany, N.Y., D’Alauro came to Bowdoin already hooked on movies.
An English major, he studied film with Welsch and Associate Professor of English Ann Kibbie. Disappointed with the lack of filmmaking courses at Bowdoin—at that time, the department was composed of just Welsch—D’Alauro studied filmmaking at Hampshire College his senior year, as part of the 12-College Exchange Program.
“I really thought I wanted to head in the filmmaking direction,” said D’Alauro, who worked at a few video stores following graduation, including Matt & Dave’s Video Venture—the former VCR rental store on Maine Street, Bart & Greg’s inspiration and where D’Alauro and Morris first worked together.
Eventually, working as a production assistant in New York City, D’Alauro grew frustrated with the “military” hierarchy of the industry (his highest-profile gig: Woody Allen’s Italian cell phone commercial in Central Park). When Morris asked if D’Alauro wanted to join him in a endeavor to open up a DVD-only store following the closure of Matt & Dave’s, D’Alauro picked up and moved back to Maine.
“I’m not a business person at all, but I think Bowdoin gave me the confidence to think that yes, I want to start a business. I’ll figure out how to do it, and I did,” said D’Alauro.
As for Reed Hastings ’83, CEO and co-founder of Netflix, who took his liberal arts education in quite a different direction, D’Alauro responds with humor and perspective: “I jokingly refer to him as the enemy, but if he didn’t do it, somebody else would.”
While Hastings’ work has influenced campus, so has D’Alauro’s, even if more subtly.
“He has been a tremendous help and support to faculty at the College in ways that never, ever get recognized,” said Welsch. “For many years here, [the Bowdoin] library didn’t have to spend that money growing its collection because Bart was unofficially doing it here with us and for us.”
Part of the reason D’Alauro admires films is the way that they provide a sense of “thematic closure.” Perhaps the fact that the Curtis Memorial Library as well as the Bowdoin Library, where D’Alauro now works and once worked as a student, plans to add some of Bart & Greg’s DVDs to its own collection will begin to provide that ending.