Jerusalem Loses Two Cultural Landmarks

Music Center and Third Ear operators say they have been squeezed out of business by downloads from the Internet.

Jerusalem’s culture lovers have suffered two blows in recent weeks. First, the Music Center store − which offered the city’s best selection of disks and tapes − shut its doors. Shortly afterward, the Third Ear chain announced that it was closing its film rental library in the city.

But unlike in the case of other cultural institutions that have vanished from Jerusalem, nobody is attributing this to the city’s demographic changes: The culprit is the Internet and the changes it has caused in how people consume culture. As Third Ear owner Miki Dotan put it, “Horses couldn’t continue after they invented the automobile.”

The chain began operating in Jerusalem 18 years ago, nine years after opening in Tel Aviv. Its film library, located in the German Colony neighborhood, contains 26,000 films in various genres and languages − a gold mine for movie buffs. At its height the library had 10,000 subscribers. But in recent years that number has steadily declined, as more and more people switched to downloading films from the Internet.

While the Tel Aviv branch is supported by a coffeehouse and a performance venue, the Jerusalem branch only rented films, leaving it with no defense against the web’s predations.

Even the fact that many of the library’s movies aren’t available on the web wasn’t enough to keep it from closing. Now, it plans a fire sale of its films − unless a small group of subscribers can succeed in saving it.

“It’s a marvelous collection, which doesn’t fall short of the best stores in Paris,” said Yakir Levin, one of the leaders of this effort. “If it were possible to download it all by streaming, that’s one thing. But we aren’t there yet. I just watched a fantastic Dutch series that I found at Third Ear. Where will I download that from the Internet − much less with an English translation?”

Emil Salman