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Inside one of Pa.'s first (and last) video stores

Plus, a wellspring of historical rabbit holes.

March 18, 2022
Inside this week's edition: trivia tap, movie man, weekend planner, historical site, The Office Experience, a messy map, top news, and Happy Holi. 

If you like what you read today, forward this edition to a friend, or show us a little love and make a gift to PA Local to keep the good times rolling. As a special bonus this week, all contributions will be DOUBLED.

What Pennsylvania town claims the world's first oil well? 

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.) 
Jack Ceney in his video store. (Colin Deppen / Spotlight PA)

Pennsylvania’s last surviving video-rental chain, Family Video, has gone the way of Blockbuster, and with it, an era of home entertainment in Pennsylvania has come to an end. Sort of.

While Family Video announced the closure of all nine of its remaining Pennsylvania stores in January of 2021 and is now selling CBD products on its website, a handful of mom-and-pop holdouts remain in various (sometimes unexpected) incarnations.

This is a story about one of them, Jack’s Discount Videos, which opened almost 10 years before the first Blockbuster and is without question one of the oldest video stores on earth. It's also one of the last remaining.

The shop, located in Millvale, Allegheny County, is a cozy kind of crowded, brimming with DVDs, VHS cassettes, and movie biz ephemera. It's also still doing a surprisingly brisk business, as owner Jack Ceney explains.

The conversation was edited for clarity and length

PA Local: Hi, Jack. So, tell me the story. 

Jack Ceney: I opened up here right after I graduated high school in 1976. (The first Blockbuster opened in 1985.) When I opened up we had VideoDiscs and Betamax, if you remember those. We had 100 movies for rent in the early days. We have more than 40,000 titles on DVD available for rent or purchase now. 

PA Local: Wait … really? 

Jack Ceney: Yup. And we’ve never changed our prices. It’s $3.20 for three days or a dollar a day, basically. There’s not a lot of money in it anymore — we do electronics repair and that’s what keeps us going — but it’s nice to have the rental business and the people are … it’s just nice to sit there and talk about movies all day long. 

It’s different, though. The movie studios used to help us a lot and send us posters and promotional materials. They used to take care of you big time, but that all went by the wayside. You have to buy your own posters now. 

PA Local: How many rentals would you say you’re doing on average? 

Jack Ceney: I’d say we do 30 to 40 rentals on a good day. 

Sundays are usually busier because we do a rent-two-get-the-third-one-free deal. We also rent video games.

PA Local: What about VHS cassettes? Are those still in demand? 

Jack Ceney: For older people, VCRs may be the only way to see home movies they took of their children, so they're still in use. All I know is we have a repair shop two doors down and when I get a VCR in here to be sold, it’s gone the same day. I can’t keep them in stock. 

PA Local: Do you think there's a revival on the horizon

Jack Ceney: I believe anything old becomes new again.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

"One nice thing about Florida, it makes Pennsylvania look unspoiled."

—Keystone State native John Updike in his 1990 novel Rabbit at Rest

» Friday, March 18: It's Mud Sale season in Lancaster County, and they're happening this weekend in Manheim and several other locations.

» Friday, March 18: "Friday Night Mics!" is a radio-style discussion for people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism held on Zoom from the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University. Sign up here.

» Friday, March 18: Catch a performance by Philly brass band Snacktime at the Kimmel Center's free happy hour event from 4 to 7 p.m.

» Saturday, March 19: Scranton's rescheduled-because-of-snow St. Patrick's Day Parade steps off — for real this time — at 11:45 a.m.

» Saturday, March 19: It's "Sadderday" at Belvederes Ultra-Dive in Pittsburgh, meaning all emo music, all night. *Vax proof required. 

» Saturday, March 19: Learn why bees are important — and how to protect them — at this Bee Hotel Workshop in State College.

» Sunday, March 20: Get a hoagie from Hoagie Dom, Philly's "hoagie king," at his Bardot Cafe residency. Read this rave review in Eater first. 

» Monday, March 21: "Art Madness" comes to Beaver County with an art crawl, spoken word events, live theater performances, and more.
Tell us about a Pennsylvania business or service that deserves a turn in the spotlight and we'll share your suggestion here.

This week's shoutout belongs to one of our favorite sources of internet rabbit holes, ExplorePAhistory.com. It uses the state's many historical markers to bring Pennsylvania "history to life."

For example, did you know Bradford County was a haven for royalists fleeing the French Revolution, with hopes Marie Antoinette would join them? Or that Mahanoy City is credited as the "Birthplace of Cable TV"?
Photographer @mar_sees_life sees two faces in this picture. Do you? Send us your Pennsylvania pics by email here, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

» One thing we learned this week: Pennsylvania trails most of its neighbors in budgeting money for state arts agencies, per Axios. 

» One thing that made us say 'hmm': A "fully immersive" experience based on NBC's The Office is happening in Chicago ... not Scranton.

» One thing worth reading: Wilkinsburg author Deesha Philyaw's flash-fiction piece for Fractured Lit: "Blink and You Miss Her."

» One thing to listen to: Pittsburgh author and Washington Post columnist Damon Young has a new podcast called "Stuck."

» One thing that made us smile: This Baltimore-centric, nature-bending map that somehow managed to move Reading, Pa. into the northern tier.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» Pa. Supreme Court rejects challenges to state’s new legislative maps

» Former Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane arrested for DUI

» Pa. official denies blame for botched medical marijuana rule

» Election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you
Mango lassi. (Thomas Angermann / Flickr)

For Holi — the Hindu Festival of Colors that marks the beginning of spring — here's a simple recipe for mango lassi, via Anadi Misra.

Note: Serves two


  • 2 cups fresh or frozen mangoes
  • 2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • Cane sugar (or maple syrup) to taste
  • Almonds and fresh mint for garnish (optional) 


  • In a blender, add your chopped mangoes, followed by the yogurt, milk, and sweetener. Blend until all ingredients are combined.
  • Pour the mango lassi into a serving glass. Garnish with chopped almonds and fresh mint, if desired. Serve immediately or chill first.

Let us know how yours turn out. Photographic evidence is welcome here.

Titusville claims the world's first oil well, which was drilled in 1859 by businessman and prospector Edwin Drake. It was also named for him. The Drake Well Museum and Park marks the spot today.

The oil boom that followed transformed the northwestern region of the state, both environmentally and economically

It's been reported that Bradford soon claimed one of the highest concentrations of millionaires in the world. There's even a working pumpjack at the local McDonald's drive-thru

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret recipes!
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