Kevin Koppes by Emmanuel MillerNeighborhood Economy and Small Business

Kevin Koppes is a tall, white male with strawberry blond hair that he keeps shaved, except for a slight scruff from his ears to his chin. He’s heavier set with a slight bark to his loud, smooth, inflected voice. He has rectangular glasses with wire frames and thick lenses. He smiles and laughs often, and keeps good posture. Much of his character is revealed in the work that he does.

Kevin runs The Video Underground, a local movie store at 3203 Washington St that also sells coffee and screens movies. The store itself is medium sized and rests on a corner, consequently there are two large almost floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass door at the front. The panes are intercepted by sils, large enough to be window seats and covered in grey carpet. Almost all the walls, windows, and ceiling are draped in black fabric. It is perhaps the kind found in the theater, attached to the ceiling by staples. The drapes hang like dress fabric from old oil paintings and part like a stage curtain, framing the thin, wire racks that brim with unexplored cinematography, each tagged with yellow-laminated paper. The fabric in front of the windows is usually parted to let light in which brushes the velvety red carpet. At the back of the room is a counter and register, both of which are at standing height. Kevin does not have a chair. On the back wall, in the corner of the counter is a TV. Kevin tends to play in it whatever PG movie he has lying around. He also, from time to time, plays PBS or CNN on the radio when customers are not around. There is a slight word cacophony that it blends gently for the casual listener. One can listen to whichever they prefer at any given moment. It is here that Kevin spends most of his time: cataloguing movies and receipts, making drinks, renovating the space, and talking with customers. He enjoys what he does, even though he does not watch movies much. Whenever he speaks with customers, Kevin keeps a wide, relaxed smile on his visage and laughs easily. Overall, his demeanor is as friendly and warm as his “Hi, how’s it going?” and “Take care’s.” Yet, perhaps what is most revealing about his character is in his interactions with his customers: the fact that he remembers all of them.

Kevin’s ability to remember people and seamlessly bring them together in conversation was exhibited on a particular occasion when he was recommending a movie to Steven. Steven, a man of average height, casual clothes, and black hair and beard, frequents the store often. On a particular evening, he wore grey exercise shorts and a purple shirt. They had been speaking while another customer, Peter, was perusing the shelves. Peter wore grey Adidas pants with three neon green lines running from the foot to the hip and a lighter grey t-shirt and holds a see-through DVD case. He’s white with black, curly hair, non-existent near the temples. At one point, Kevin and Steven were talking about the movie Steven had just dropped off, called Samurai. Kevin thought for a moment, and had a recommendation: Yadoka. He turned to Peter who was towards the back and asked:

K: Peter, you seen Yadoka? Peter looked up from his perusal.

P: Yeah, I just dropped it in the bin.

Kevin, being on a first-name basis with his customers, as well as knowing their preferred genre shows that he remembers people. This ability was also illuminated when discussing students from a nearby school called Meridian Academy. My mother, Victoria, had come into the store once about a year ago. This came up in conversation:

E: Yeah, it was a while ago. She came in and told-she told me she gave you her credit card so I could come in whenever-

K: Yeah, yeah

E: To rent a movie. She was the one who suggested to do this place for a project.

K: Yeah, did she come over when it was… ex-exi-

E: Exhibitions?

K: Yeah!

E: Yes! She came around here.

My mother had told me she was bored that evening and went to the movie store. The fact that Kevin remembered her, and that she came at Exhibitions shows Kevin’s almost uncanny ability to remember those who visit his shop. One likely reason for why Kevin is able to remember people so well is because Kevin makes his interactions like conversations with friends rather than a strict seller-buyer relationship. This phenomenon was illustrated in an interaction with Steven. Kevin recognized him as soon as he walked in and his face lit up with a grin. On this occasion, Steven offered to stick around and talk until Kevin closed shop. They spoke about many things, from Paypal to VHS:

Steven: *Laughing* What’s a VHS..

Kevin: *Laughs* They’re little boxes for movies that we used to have before DVDs. They require special equipment to use, and I have stacks and stacks, way too many of them in my apartment.

Kevin jokingly related a little bit of information about his apartment, a life outside of his work life. This casualness is often customary in conversations between friends, not between vendors and purchasers. Kevin’s ability to speak with people as if they were friends likely helps him remember those who visit his shop.

 

The results of friendly conversations is mutual trust; most notably, customers feel comfortable in his store. Peter walked in with a 70’s orange-colored backpack and helmet. Upon giving Kevin a DVD, he placed his bag on the floor a short distance in front of the register. He soon collected it after he paid for his next rental. The trust Kevin establishes between himself and the people who visit his shop is visible not only in his verbal relations, but in his physical presence, as well.

Kevin’s intelligent and gentle character is greatly revealed in his memory for his customers and their tastes. Although Kevin has only been running The Video Underground for four years, he knows many people and what they like to watch. When asked if he notices a specific “type” to come into the store, he noted:

there are a lot of people who visit around here. There’s no one movie “type” I can put my finger on. We have people visit from all sorts of professions. We get handymen, engineers, LARPers, musicians, doctors….. Some watch movies because they want to be up on pop culture and references, others watch for entertainment.

This appears to be an accurate assessment: Peter is a surgeon; and many students from Meridian Academy, a nearby high school, often rent from The Video Underground. Kevin hopes to continue running his movie-store-coffee-shop business, but hopes to fit the room to a convertable event space to screen movies and shows. With his natural knack for business and human interaction, this goal seems quite achievable.