On Monday at noon, a small crowd of local film fanatics waited outside Crystal Video to purchase a piece of history. They lined up for first dibs on The Thin Man film series from the 1930s, for the copy of Little, a short film made by Bitterroot director John D. Nilles, and for any number of titles in the store’s signature foreign movie section. Since owner Tim Huffman announced a few days prior that the Hip Strip staple had to close, fans scrambled to secure the store’s eclectic collection. There was even a donations jar for the Missoula Public Library to purchase films.
But it never came to pass. A few minutes past noon, Huffman emerged from the back of the Crystal to say that he was currently in 11th hour negotiations to keep the venerable movie store open. The crowd cheered. By Tuesday afternoon the deal was done.
The near-loss of a downtown institution and the last-minute arrival of an anonymous financial backer make for a dramatic, optimistic storyline. But Crystal Video’s future is still far from secure. Huffman says he’s received a loan that will help make immediate improvements—more copies of new releases, more DVD copies of classics currently only available on VHS and a revamped snacks section. But his loan doesn’t change the fact that Netflix still has a warehouse in Butte, Red Box is situated in nearly every local grocery store and pay-per-view options continue to expand through satellite and cable providers.
“The big picture hasn’t really changed,” says Huffman. “But with this investor and the public reaction to my news of closing, both of those things are related to an expression of public sentiment that the Crystal has to continue. In a lot of cases I heard from people who were alarmed, but hadn’t been in the store for a couple years or more.”
Therein lies the rub. A few more copies of Paul Blart: Mall Cop and extra Whoppers will only carry the Crystal so far. If the store’s recent yo-yo teaches us anything, it’s that local stores can’t be taken for granted.
“My own attitude has changed,” says Huffman. “After several years of running a small business you begin to see dollars and bills unpaid, and it’s easy to lose sight of the magic and the beauty of the thing that enticed you to do it in the first place.”
There’s certainly a little more magic and beauty knowing the Crystal will be around, but just don’t think that’s the end of the story.
“The third act,” says Huffman, “has to be more customers.”