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The red envelopes are back. After my high profile departure from using Netflix about a year ago, I’ve now gone back to the popular DVD-by-mail rental service. I know what you’re thinking: I just couldn’t stay away from a good thing. Not exactly.

The sad truth of the matter is that the owner of my local video rental store died, and whoever inherited the store decided to sell the entire inventory and give up. The store is being converted to a day spa. There was a lot of grieving in my neighborhood, Potrero Hill in San Francisco, over the loss of the store, but there was also a huge rush of people (including myself) going in to buy up the inventory like vultures at a sale for raw meat.

Then what? Strangely enough there are no video rental stores in this neighborhood now, which means I have to drive 10 to 15 minutes to the nearest one. So I’ve returned to Netflix a bit begrudgingly, and my son and I picked all the movies we want for our online queue.

Everyone talks about movie rental stores as being outmoded, and others can even see beyond the time when Netflix will matter, when people can simply pick whatever movie they want on-demand through cable, satellite or the Internet. That’s all true, but I stopped to think about what we’ve lost when our rental place went out of business — and perhaps what we’ve gained.

What We Lose Without Video Rental Stores

> A reason to get out of the house and meet up with neighbors in the random fashion of local shopping.

> The tactile sensation of going through aisles of movies, reading over the movie box’s descriptions, and finding something we weren’t necessarily looking for.

> Instant gratification for my son, who could pick through the movies, and grab the one he wanted to watch that very night.

> The recommendations of movie lovers who work at the video store, or even the recommendations of acquaintances you might see at the store.

> Loss of local jobs for people who love being around movies.

What We Gain Without Video Rental Stores

> The convenience of ordering movie rentals without having to leave your house — especially good if you are infirm or elderly or can’t get around easily.

> No worries about late fees for returning movies after their due dates.

> The lower cost of getting movies through Netflix, especially if you watch a lot of movies and like more variety.

> Automated recommendation service through Netflix, which helps you pick similar movies to what you like. Also, you can see recommendations from friends.

> Less time spent driving around to return and pick up movies. Less time waiting in line at a Blockbuster-type store, which might have poor customer service.

In general, I’d say that the loss of the physical store feels like a loss for the neighborhood, and a loss of the human touch. And the advantage of Netflix is that I’ll get to see more movies for my money and I’ll have more movies and TV shows to choose from.

What else am I missing? Send along your own thoughts on the importance of video rental stories, or why you don’t mind if they all disappear. I’ll update this post with any important points I’ve missed.