Movie Rental Days Revisited: Naro Video Collection to Debut at ODU

by | Aug 2, 2022

Tucked away on the 4th floor of ODU’s Perry Library is a growing wall-to-wall labyrinth of films. When complete, it will contain the entire expanded collection of what was once a local landmark: Norfolk’s Naro Video. 

In the golden age of the movie rental era, stores such as Hollywood Video and Blockbuster boomed nationwide. While these chains carried high volumes of mainstream media, local video retailers, such as Naro Video, carved out a niche by focusing on unique, independent cinema. Ask any Norfolk resident, and they’ll wistfully recall the mom-and-pop shop that evolved into the area’s “premiere video rental destination.” 

Naro Video opened in 1989 as a small video rental store in Ghent, renowned for carrying recent releases and hard-to-find titles. It wasn’t until husband and wife duo Tim Cooper and Linda McGreevy purchased the store in 1996 that Naro Video quickly evolved into the establishment we fondly remember today. Over the years, they expanded their modest collection of 3,000 movies to an impressive catalog of over 42,000 titles organized by genre. Customers could find everything under the sun, from the classics (think: Gone With the Wind) to the obscure (think: Italian 1960s Psychedelic Horror), to documentaries, foreign films, and independent works. Naro Video eventually moved to the storefront next to the theater on Colley Ave and became a neighborhood institution attracting everyone from film fanatics to casual browsers. One couple who met in the store eventually got married – a testament to the shop’s ability to foster community and conversation. 

Despite its local fame and following, Naro Video was not immune to the decay other video rental stores experienced as streaming services infiltrated the market. In 2016, after several years of declining revenue, a few committed volunteers offered to make Naro Video a nonprofit – Naro Expanded Video Archival Library. The nonprofit status would enable the campaign-generated funding Naro Video needed to stay afloat. It offered the operation a more robust platform to amplify its cultural education and programming throughout the community.

Amidst market pressures, the nonprofit model was not sustainable long-term, so the shop closed its doors in 2019 – one of the last video rental stores to survive on the East coast. Cooper and McGreevy were adamant about keeping the massive film collection intact and carried on with their mission to make film accessible for the community at large. They asked Old Dominion University’s Library to inherit the collection, as it was an institution close to their hearts; McGreevy was a retired ODU professor. 

An ongoing effort is underway to process and organize the Naro Video Collection and transform a section of the Perry Library to resemble the former store. They’ve even enlisted a designer to “get it right.” The space will include everything from the original catalog to Naro Video paraphernalia, such as a portrait of Cooper and McGreevy and vintage movie posters. “We don’t want this to be boxes on shelves – we want this to be an experience,” says interim librarian Stuart Frazer, who hopes the space will offer a collaborative space for students of ODU’s growing film program. 

As of June 2022, the processing is about halfway complete. It’s no simple task – aside from organizing the space, librarians must create a compute record and metadata formats containing descriptive information about each title. Meanwhile, ODU plans to bring back the “Naro Minded” event series, free film screenings open to the public that Naro Video used to host to showcase their short film collection. A sneak peek display for the front of the library is also in the works to be open in the fall semester. The display will include ‘New to Naro’ releases and new selections by guests and partners throughout the year. These titles will be available to the students, faculty, and members of the Friends of the ODU Library. 

ODU has not yet announced an anticipated completion date for the entire collection. They’re currently evaluating their parking situation to accommodate the anticipated influx of students, film buffs, and locals looking for a taste of independent cinema. Stay tuned for updates.

Rachel Reiss

Talbot Park, NFK

Rachel Reiss moved to Norfolk in 2021, and, true to her native Floridian roots, has been enjoying life near the beach. Since her day job as an HR Program Manager has gone remote, it offers her the flexibility to explore the area’s rich history, culture, and diverse food scene in her spare time. She is also a passionate pianist, aspiring yogi, and self-proclaimed health nut who loves to cook. Rachel lives near Talbot Park with her husband, Phil - a CHKD resident - and their Maltese, Minnie.

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