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Spain’s first video-rental store still holding out after 34 years

Founded in 1980, Video Instan in Barcelona continues to resist the challenge of the internet

Aurora Depares manages the video store that her father founded in 1980. Ampliar foto
Aurora Depares manages the video store that her father founded in 1980.

There is something kind of romantic about Video Instan, say its members: it was the very first video-rental store to open in Spain, in 1980. But this relic from another age, situated in downtown Barcelona, now looks set to close, and faces a 50-percent hike in its rent.

But Aurora Depares, who took over managing the store after her father Jenaro, who founded it, retired, says that despite running at a loss for two years, she has no intention of throwing in the towel, and that paying the rent is the least of her problems.

“If anything kills off Video Instan, it won’t be the rent, it will be piracy,” she says.

If anything kills off Video Instan, it won’t be the rent, it will be piracy”

During its heyday, the club employed up to 20 people, but is now run by a team of five, who work flat out to keep its 8,000 VHS tapes and 36,000 DVDs catalogued and in good order, now that the outlet can no longer afford storage space. “We have the biggest collection of Spanish movies in Europe,” says Aurora, who says that she buys every new release on the Spanish market. “New films, as well as classics that are only being put on to DVD now,” she says, holding out a copy of an early Katharine Hepburn movie, Christopher Strong: “It doesn’t matter if it’s not very good, we have to have everything she made.”

The 39-year-old says she is determined to preserve her father’s legacy, despite the problems the video-rental sector faces: around 80 percent of rental stores have closed over the last five years, and there were just 784 in Spain at the beginning of 2014.

“Our first shop was a success, and so we decided to move into bigger premises,” says Aurora. Her parents had just bought their first video player and saw the potential for rentals. They travelled to London and Paris, talking to video clubs and learning some of the tricks of the trade. “A month after we opened, another did, and then another… It was the business of the 1980s,” she says. At the age of 16 she began working part time, later deciding to drop her law studies to work full time in Video Instan.

We have the biggest collection of Spanish movies in Europe”

But as broadband speeds have increased, more and more people have begun downloading movies from peer-to-peer sites, sounding the death knell for video and DVD rental stores. Few of the 12,000 people who have joined Video Instan over the last 34 years remain members. Aurora says that she rents out between 3,000 and 4,000 films a month, but that this doesn’t cover her €2,000 rent and the €3,000 she spends on new films, a cost on which she refuses to compromise, saying that if she didn’t, “we’d be just like any other video club.”

She is now hoping that Barcelona City Hall will list the store as a protected building, which would provide some protection until the government does something to stop unlicensed downloading. “The last thing I want to do is to close, this is my family’s business,” she says.