The tireless scythe of the Internet mows down another: Hollywood/Movie Gallery, the video chain, will close 805 stores. There are several in the Twin Cities; 14 will close.

I used to patronize one, but they got rid of the drop-off box that lets you throw the discs from the comfort of your car. Criminals were breaking into the box and stealing the discs, so the box was removed. This is why we can't have nice things. Happy? This meant customers had to park and walk to the store, which defeats the entire point of having the internal combustion engine.

At that point I rewired my house, ran Ethernet to the TV, and voila: Netflix streaming, the Old Country Buffet of movie viewing.

It's always sad to see a major information distribution-system collapse, but this has been a long time coming. The idea of going someplace to get a disc with ones-and-zeroes, then driving it home, then driving it back -- well, it's an archaic system, like cutting down trees, printing words on them, and LET ME REPHRASE THAT. It's like broadcasting TV shows in the form of a liquid, which you have to pour into the TV, then drain, and recycle.

Before we bemoan the end of the neighborhood chain video store, though, let us recall what it replaced: the neighborhood non-chain video store. When VCRs (an old term meaning "very crappy resolution") came out, video stores sprang up on every corner. They'd have new releases -- or rather, they'd be out of new releases -- and a few foreign films, like "An American Werewolf in London." They offered VHS copies of Disney for the kids, slathered in sticky jam, and naughty films in a shame-closet in the back.

Behind the counter, a bored, snotty film geek who judged every rental. "'Risky Business'? Are you sure you wouldn't want something by Truffaut? No, of course you wouldn't."

He'd grind his teeth when you rented George Lucas' "THX1138," because he knew you were getting it because you liked "Star Wars," not because it was an important piece of minimalism in the tradition of "Alphaville." When you returned it and said you didn't like it, his day was made.

Good or ill, these neighborhood places were unique, and often defined a community: Uptown's video store had all the boring-but-terribly-important art films ("Do you have 'The Life of Camus' with the Dutch subtitles?" "It's over in Smoking, under Moody.") Frogtown had kung-fu up the yin-yang, and so on.

But the rise of the chains pushed out the little guys, partly because the new stores didn't smell -- most video-rental places always smelled like musty rugs and old cardboard -- and they had a certain hip, new glamor. Meaning, a bag with a company logo! A laminated card! Within a few years, another small piece of local distinctiveness was lost; the chain video store took its place alongside the chain drugstore and fast-food outlet, each with their own vague, placeless architecture.

But we didn't care that much, because the chains were shiny. They were out of the new movies too, but they were out of more new movies.

That mattered, right up until it didn't. Now, with so many movies available from so many online sources, "new" matters less than "now," and the idea of pushing a button to get your ration of cinema simply overwhelms the serendipitous charms of the video store.

I know, I know: You'll write and say, "We don't do Netflix," and "Some of us still have Internet speeds that resemble a turtle carrying individual bits one at a time across a bog of maple syrup."

But to repeat the headline: 805 stores closed. Apparently someone's doing it. They'll all be gone someday. The Internet mantra -- cheaper/faster is OK, free/instantaneous is better -- remakes our world with almost effortless indifference to the old ways. Note to Starbucks: Next time you have a round of store closings, don't blame the Internet. It's good. But it's not that good.

Yet. • 612-673-7858