If you, like me, identify as a film buff, you probably have a personal collection of physical media: Blu-rays or DVDs that you always want to have on hand for those moments when you feel like watching one of your favourite films or just want to refresh your acquaintance with an old classic. You have learnt that you can’t rely on streaming services because their catalog keeps changing, and what’s available today might be completely unavailable tomorrow.

But buying physical discs is getting harder and harder. Of course, you can always order a specific film in a specific edition from the usual online superstores, but that (in addition to ethical concerns) is a suboptimal experience: from an objective point of view, because in some cases it’s not even clear what you are buying (languages, subtitles, extras… sometimes even what actual films are in a box set is a mystery); and from a subjective point of view, because the full experience of collecting items includes going to a shop, browsing the shelves, spotting a title you didn’t expect, picking it up hoping that it’s not too expensive (I have set for myself a number of rules to avoid bankruptcy), checking the extras, etc.. The problem is, there are fewer and fewer shops selling films.

When I go back to Italy, chain stores – including the tech ones and the bookstores, which used to have a decent offering – have completely stopped selling movies. In Brussels, the big tech stores still have a section for home video, even though it’s becoming smaller and smaller, and discs are getting more and more expensive. But there’s no audio/video shop where you could just climb down the stairs to the basement floor and find yourself surrounded by shelves and shelves of films, just films, nothing but films, like you would, for instance, in the amazing Fopp external link shops in Cambridge and London.

So, imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, an HMV Shop opened in one of the main shopping centres downtown: still not on par with the best UK experiences, but with a comparable atmosphere (the dark walls and lighting that is not daytime-bright do the trick). And, most importantly, a few big shelves full of Blu-Rays, many of which published by renowned distributors (Arrow Video, Criterion, Curzon, BFI), hard to find in any other shop, and including lots of extra content. And most of them arranged with their spine facing outwards (instead of showing the front cover, like they are presented in most chain stores), the way they would be on a collector’s shelf: I think this presentation, added to the fact there is only one or two copies of each item, does the trick of communicating respect for a ‘serious’ customer, who is able to recognise what he wants by the title only.

Immediately, most of my self-imposed rules vaporised (these discs are not cheap - but at least they aren’t more expensive than they would be in the UK), and I left with a copy of 101 Films’ external link Black Christmas external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. and one of Arrow Video’s external link The Exorcist III external link to Letterboxd Created with Sketch. .

So… there is hope for home video stores. I have a great new destination for Saturday afternoon walks, and I can only wish that this HMV Shop isn’t forced to shut down in a few months: in addition to Blu-Rays and DVDs, it sells CDs and vinyl records, video games, a few books, film-related toys and t-shirts, and those inexplicably popular Funko Pop dolls. But will it attract enough customers? While I was there, for instance, I heard a group of teenagers complain that the books were in English only. Will Brussels’ collectors’ money be enough to keep the shop alive?