A few years back, I found myself considering a part-time job. In my late 30’s, working full-time at home as a freelance artist, it wasn’t about the money, but getting out of the house a little more. As much as I like working for myself, I missed having coworkers, even though when I had them, they drove me nuts.
The only place in Canmore I wanted to go for an evening job was Avalanche. Make a little extra money, sure, but best of all, I got to be around movies, something near and dear to my heart. I’m hardly the type of person that can discuss great cinema, tell you anything about Fellini or discuss the hidden nuances in Woody Allen films. In fact, I can’t stand Woody Allen films. I just love movies.
But Avalanche also has a reputation. People like working there and that’s something you can’t fake, because they seem to like their jobs even when the owners aren’t around. In a business well known for hiring teenagers and young adults, I was easily the oldest guy there. Little did I know, the ownership was changing just as I was hired on, and I’ll admit that I thought I might have made a mistake. But Jeff assured me that the owners weren’t just handing it off to anybody, they were making sure that it went to people who would keep the culture of Avalanche alive.
Enter Patrick and Camille, and I had no reason to worry.
I already had a work ethic; it’s something I take pride in. But working at Avalanche, it didn’t take long to realize that everybody else there did, too. Many of these ‘kids’ worked harder and knew more about customer service than most adults I’ve met and worked with. For a lot of them, this was a coveted first job and with a lineup of their peers in this community waiting to take their place, few took it for granted.
My time at Avalanche was short, just over a year as I realized I was too busy for a part-time job, even though it was only a couple of nights a week. But I enjoyed it and am thankful for the experience, because though I left a while ago, they still treat me like one of their own. I even came back that year to work a shift with another former staff member, so everybody else could go to the Christmas party and we were happy to do it. How many employers would you do that for?
To understand what kind of environment and direction Avalanche has provided to kids in this community, you need only look to the adults many of them have become. Responsible and hardworking, they’re the type of people you want to know, hire and work with, because they know the value of doing a job well.
Customer service is a talk they walk at Avalanche. Rather than just point a finger to a corner of the store when you ask for a movie, staff will take you right to it or go and get it for you. That direction comes from the top. Even as a customer, I still can’t walk by a crooked DVD case on the shelf without straightening it.
The place always smells of popcorn, free for the taking while you peruse the store, and if once in a while a batch gets burned, it’s usually because all of the staff are helping customers and didn’t get to it in time. But a new batch isn’t far behind.
Only a fraction of late fees are ever collected. Most of the time, they’re forgiven outright. The only time you can be guaranteed to be asked to pay them is on the many occasions when they’re donated to benefit a local charity or cause. And in this community, people are always happy to give more than they owe.
Walking into Avalanche, you never have to worry that you don’t know what to get. I can’t tell you how many times Camille, Patrick or Jeff have taken the time to walk around with us, pointing out movies we should see, often sleeper hits we’ve never heard of and then thoroughly enjoy. It’s gotten so they even know what we like. One of my favorite movies is “The Way.”. This movie so inspired me that I painted Martin Sheen’s portrait from it. I may not have ever seen it, had it not been recommended to me by Camille on one of those walks through the new releases. That portrait now hangs in Sheen’s home in California.
Every dog in Canmore knows Avalanche. Not only is it one of the few places where they’re welcomed to come on in, but there’s a never-ending bag of dog cookies behind that counter. Even if you aren’t renting or buying a movie, dogs are always welcome to stop in for a treat, if they just happen to be on their way by.
For someone who lives outside of this community, you might view the closure of a movie rental business to be inevitable. In the age of digital downloads and faceless automatic rental kiosks, it might seem that this business model has seen its day. Not here. As mentioned in their release, Avalanche is only closing because “our location is no longer available to us.”
You don’t just go to Avalanche to rent a movie, you go because you might run into someone you haven’t seen in a while. It’s one of the still locally owned gems in this town where they know you and they’re happy you stopped in, even if it was just to say Hi. If this is the end for Avalanche, it will be mourned by this whole community. Small towns have a way of disappearing one business at a time and while we all want the modern big box chain convenience, nothing comes without sacrifice and we lose a bit of ourselves each time it happens.
Hopefully somebody out there will want to write the sequel in another location. If you’re that person, Patrick and Camille would like to talk to you. If you want to know where to find them, just follow your dog.