By Sherry DiBari

For two solid days in July, workers hauled hundreds of boxes from two storage units on Colley Avenue to Old Dominion University's Perry Library.

Inside those boxes were over 42,000 movies and television shows, the entire collection of Naro Video — a video rental store in Norfolk's Ghent neighborhood — one of the last of its kind on the East Coast.

In 2018, when it was obvious that Naro Video couldn't survive another year, owners Tim Cooper and Linda McGreevy had to make a hard decision on what to do with the inventory.

After ruling out selling the collection, they ultimately chose Old Dominion University Libraries as the new holder.

McGreevy has long-standing ties with the University. She spent 34 years as a professor in ODU's art history department and at one point served as the department chair.

"ODU treated me very well," McGreevy said. "So, I should give them something of myself."

More importantly, ODU agreed on their vision for the collection's future, including making the films accessible to the community.

"We just couldn't let the community that loved us so much and were so happy with us, be bereft of it," McGreevy said.

The Naro collection will increase ODU's physical film offerings sevenfold.

"What got us really interested, was that we would be getting access to titles that are not widely held in libraries." Stuart Frazer, ODU's interim librarian, said.

Myles McNutt, assistant professor in ODU's Department of Communication and Theatre Arts, shares Frazer's sentiment.

"There are things in this collection we don't even know are there. If you were to go online right now, you could not access them," McNutt said. "The reality is that we think that everything is streaming. But, every day somebody goes online to search for something and discovers it is not currently streaming, or it has never been streaming or there are rights issues or there is something going on that makes it inaccessible."

The DVDs and VHS tapes, once cataloged, will not simply disappear into the library's collections. They will be housed in a newly created space within the library.

The biggest challenge will be "setting up a way that we can create a Naro Video-like environment within the Perry Library," Frazer said.

There is a lot of appeal in that type of space, McNutt suggested. "There's something about that experience that is not replicated on a streaming platform."

The Naro Video collection and its place as a neighborhood fixture took several decades of thoughtful curation. In 1996, Cooper and McGreevy purchased an already-established Naro Video. The store came only with empty shelves and a neon sign. McGreevy and Cooper used their personal collection, all VHS tapes, to fill the space.

In 2000, they moved next door to Naro Expanded Cinema on Colley Avenue. Cooper called this move "synergistic." "It was just perfect," McGreevy said.

Over the years, the collection expanded, and by 2018, they had amassed over 42,000 titles.

The physical store, a maze of shelves overflowing with videos, was known for its character. Handwritten tags noting a multitude of genres, directors and languages could be found throughout the store. Membership cards were handwritten and filed in a box.

Cooper, a former film critic for Portfolio magazine, was the go-to-guy for movie recommendations.

A recent documentary, "I Found It at the Video Store," chronicles Cooper and McGreevy, the store and its support from the community.

Video stores across the country declined as consumers shifted to streaming. Blockbuster Videos, which once operated 9,000 stores, filed for bankruptcy in 2010. In 2014, they sold off the last 300 company-owned stores.

Cooper and McGreevy tried to make it work.

In 2016, they converted the store into a nonprofit, the Naro Expanded Video Archival Library.

A year later, a successful Kickstarter campaign raised $45,000 in two days. This helped the store make it through the next year.

By 2018, they realized they just couldn't keep the store going. They never considered selling the inventory.

"I would rather people say, 'this is great, you have done the right thing' than make a little cash off of it," McGreevy said.

After ODU agreed to accept the collection, it was "a long process of working out the memorandum of understanding and the terms of the partnership," Frazer said.

The memo was signed in March, just before the pandemic closed the University, which caused delays.

Frazer hopes to continue Naro Video's emphasis on community connections.

"It's beyond maintaining and archiving content," he said. "It's making that content available as a community resource that's going to set us apart."

Don't expect to go out and rent a video just yet.

"We estimate at least a year and a half to two years to get the whole thing the way that we want it," Frazer said. "It's going to take time. We want to do it right."

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