Fifty days ago, author Tom Roston began a countdown to the publication of his book, I Lost It At The Video Store. Each day, he posted information about a video store that is surviving despite the increasingly difficult climate for such brick-and-mortar stores. The book, on sale now, is an oral history by directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, and Nicole Holofcener, who reflect on the influence of the local video store on their lives and careers.
Roston used a number of resources to find the stores that still exist — including a list compiled by filmmaker Jason Cortlund — but would regularly look up a store, only to find that it had closed within the past few months. Here, in its entirety, is the list of video stores where people can still chat with a clerk, roam the aisles, and let the art of cinema encircle them in little plastic boxes.
The resurgent Vidiots in Santa Monica, Calif., is where two I Lost It At The Video Store subjects, David O. Russell and Nicole Holofcener, lost it. The store was picked as “best video store in L.A.” many times during the industry’s peak years and it’s celebrating its 30th anniversary later this year. It was threatening to close its doors earlier this year but Annapurna Pictures and others stepped in to keep it alive. The store will be hosting the L.A. launch of I Lost It At the Video Store on Sept. 26!
Shout out to Seattle’s supremo video store, Scarecrow, which may just have the widest and deepest catalog in the nation with over 120,000 titles. Like Vidiots, Scarecrow has gone non-profit to remain afloat. Seattle’s own Larry Estes, the man who got Sex, Lies, and Videotape and many other ’90s indie greats made, plays a key role in I Lost It At The Video Store.
The great city of Chicago is host of the legendary Facets, which is nearing its 40th anniversary. The store is much more than a store. Started as an art house, Facets is now a video store, a film conservator, a leading educator in film, and the host of the annual Chicago Children’s Film Festival. Surviving through diversification, Facets hasn’t lost its attitude. Check out its Facebook page for the kind of wit, quirks, and smarts the best video clerks are known for.
New York City’s oldest video store happens to still be alive on the Upper East Side, like that righteous old dude in The Strain who slays his enemies with his cane sword. Relying on a more mature patron base and a kickass video transfer service, Video Room stands tall in the ashes.
Boulder, Colo.’s best video store, which also happens to be its last, had to move after being in the same location for two decades but it keeps local films fans flush with their favorites. A friendly Colorado bookseller at this year’s BEA tipped Roston about this store. Video Station might also be the best store at the highest elevation. Does anyone know if the Himalayas have any stores left?
Thanks to Jimmy Kimmel, Roston heard about Vulcan Video, which has two locations in Austin, Tex. But Austin movie fans have known about the store for years. It’s been voted the top store in town for years by the Austin Chronicle. These dudes are some cool film lovers in one of the coolest towns in the country, so you have to pay them great respect. Check out Jimmy Kimmel and Matthew McConaughey do silly ads for the store:
Not just a good name, Rosebud Video is the oldest indie video store in Asheville, N.C. They do mainstream, indie, foreign, classic, and docs, as well as host a section dedicated to the AFI’s top 100; curating the way a great video store should. (You also have to appreciate that the business is incorporated as La Vie En Rose — nice reference!)
With more than 700 stores, Family Video is the last great big video store chain. This family-run company has brilliantly spun the concept of franchising their stores, combining them with pizza joints, and thrived where everyone else has withered away. And the stores still have something of a mom-and-pop feel, thanks to each location’s managers. People on the coasts might not know about Family Video, but in the heart of America, this video store chain reigns.
Kicking it old school, Le Video has the foreign, classics, hard-to-find, and new releases that make it one of the best video stores still standing in the Bay Area. Thirty-five years old, Le Video recently went through some growing pains when it had to move and downsize, but thanks to a partnership with Green Apple Books on the Park and a helpful hand from some generous supporters, including Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), it’s still keeping cinema lovers fully stocked.
Head north of the border! Oh yeah, this list is going global. Toronto is home of several video stores and Bay Street claims the largest DVD section and has curios, a fab directors’ section, and — get this! — they stay open until midnight. Every night. No online ordering here. You gotta walk yourself to the store.
The Video Underground
Maybe Tom Brady really said, “Movies are what keep us alive as a nation, a society, and a global community.” Maybe not. Either way, you have to like the ‘tude of this store (they put the above quote on their website). Boston’s cinephiles head to Video Underground, which keeps things local by allowing area filmmakers to stock their work on its shelves. For the price of a latte, you can be a member to one of Boston’s greatest.
What? Back to Canada so soon? Hey, it’s a big country. And if you’ve ever been to TIFF or Hot Docs, you know these guys love them some film. Head to Vancouver where Black Dog is still running around. Any store that has Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and Paradise Lost on its Essential 100 films, has a place in our heart.
Kansas City’s Video Mania has been around since 1981 and these guys know how to survive with low rates and an Adult section that would make Kevin Smith blush. Hard to find films, Criterion collection, docs, and a Borat-worthy line of underwear keep the Mania alive in MO.
You know what the first Monday of every month is in Bozeman, Mont.? It’s Late Fee Amnesty Day at Movie Lovers, the store where video nerds of the Wild West go. Or work. Or not. Here’s what they do on a slow day:
Free popcorn? If only all the video stores in America had thought of that. They’d still be standing tall like Casa Video in Tucson, Ariz., which features a variety of incentives, a director’s wall and an online service that makes the movie-watching experience fun and friendly. And did we mention the free popcorn?
Careful curation and coffee are the synergistic source of power of Philadelphia’s CineMug, a newcomer to the word of DVD rentals. Like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, CineMug is creating LIFE! Caffeinated conversation about cinema can get weird but you have to trust these guys have things under control. And they host screenings. This September, the theme is Back-to-School.
Wait. How awesome is the notion of a video store cooperative? This 30-year old store in Madison, Wisc., went through two owners over most of those years, and when it was looking to close down, the staff stepped up and turned it into a coop. Way to go, guys. Check out their staff podcast:
Organic. Local. Independent. In Yachats, Ore., there’s still a place where you can get artisanal cheese, locally-made arts and crafts, and… videos! In the grand tradition of mom-and-pop stores that combine what works for a community, Ya-Hots has what the people are hot for, including foreign, indie and B.O. hits.
With 11 stores in New Hampshire and Maine, Bull Moose reigns supreme in the USA’s upper right armpit. These guys got it all, with movies, music, games, books, events, and other forms of awesomeness. This is where New England’s fan boys and girls go.
We Deliver Videos really tells it like it is, and this Upper East Side of Manhattan store has been delivering since 1999. Maybe it is a tad pricier than the bigger guys who deliver. But these are real people who bleed when you cut them. And they’ll smile when you hug them. Fun, friendly and fearless, this store deserves a salute.
Check this out, from director Joe Swanberg in I Lost It At The Video Store: A Filmmakers’ Oral History of a Vanished Era: “One of the biggest achievements I ever felt as a filmmaker was when Cinefile Video in Los Angeles made a section for my movies in their ‘Directors’ section. You can’t find my stuff in the comedy or drama section — you have to go to the Joe Swanberg section. Kids won’t even know what that means. For me, it was like, “Holy sh-t. I am a filmmaker.” Yes, this is one of the nation’s uber stores. L.A. hosts most of the greatest remaining stores in the U.S. CineFile has been keeping the heart of moviedom beating with its clever categories and sublime curation.
Here’s their awesome ad. So awesome, in fact, that it’s very similar to I Lost It At The Video Store’s trailer. Great minds!
Minneapolis, Minnesotans have the right to pick up videos at a store, right? So says this sweet store that’s just been around for a little over a decade. Bless these small business owners, each and every one.
After the fall of Bryn Mawr’s beloved TLA video in 2012, manager Miguel Gomez threw caution to the wind and started his own store and took on the awesome responsibility of curating films for deserving PA cinephiles. Nearing its third year anniversary, all we can say is viva Viva Video!
Ah, isn’t that sweet? King Tut Video in Irvine, Ky., recently turned 18. Now, you are an adult. Act like one! Darlene and Paul are at the helm of this beloved store that keeps film folks stocked in cinema as well as shirts, hot lamps, and tanning oils.
Videology in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is no mere video store. It’s a movie mecca of screenings, talks, trivia nights, and nachos. And video rentals! In August, they hosted screenings of Queen of the Earth by wunder director/former clerk Alex Ross Perry, who is a star of I Lost It. (Roston will be hosting the bonus rounds of the Movie Trivia Night on Sept. 29!)
With a couple stores in Halifax, Nova Scotia, up north, Video Difference is loved by at least one person “raised in darkness,” that being @guyinahumansuit, who recommended the store. Hey, they’ve got plenty of free parking and videos. Can’t ask for more than that.
If an award could go to a video store for best name, this locally-owned store in Bellingham, Wash., would be a frontrunner. Although we’re a little concerned about clerk Dee Dee — check out her favorite films, including The Vanishing, They Live, and The Cabin in the Woods — but she’ll find fellow travelers in the horror-loving directors in the book.
A movie fanatic’s heart still beats in Lansing, Mich., where a diverse and deep collection of movies is in stock at this 30-year-old store. You gotta check out the store’s commercial, shot in the ’80s, starring talking VHS tapes!
A TV commercial produced for us in the 1980s. They sure don’t make ‘em like this anymore!
Posted by Video to Go on Friday, November 30, 2012
Denizens of Hamden, Conn., don’t just find their videos, coffee, and wine at Best Video — the store also hosts concerts and open mic comedy nights. These guys are scrappy. They’ve tapped the non-profit avenue to survival. Keep on keeping on!
Toronto, that delightful town of movie and documentary lovers and two of the greatest film festivals on the planet (TIFF and Hot Docs), is also where Suspect Video keeps horror and cult fans full up with videos, fanzines, and a place to congregate. And they’re not just about the creepy and weird; they’ve got plenty of international cinema and docs. Nearing its 25th anniversary, these guys are still kicking it. Look for @brofromanother walking these aisles.
Barb’s Video may be in a tiny town of Homer, Alaska, but its 19,000-title collection of movies is nothing to sniff at. Rentals cost three bucks and on Saturdays, you can get two for one if the movie is old. Wouldn’t you love to chat with Barb about her favorite films? Her recent push for the Mad Max DVD release is on point.
Savoy Video Archive
Okay, so this isn’t a video store per se. But the Savoy Theater in Montpelier, Vt., transformed its Downstairs Video Store into a private collection of over 1,000 titles, run by a volunteer. Savoy Theater members can use it on a regular basis, picking up to three films per week, including cinema classics such as Le Samouri, The Manchurian Candidate, The Jerk, and The Warriors.
Los Angeles is home of some of the truly greatest video stores that remain, like CineFile and Vidiots, but there are other, less heralded ones that lurk in the shadows. Eddie Brandt’s, on Vineland in North Hollywood, is one such store. With a vast photo catalog for sale as well, Eddie Brandt’s keeps old Hollywood alive.
Becky Leonard is the owner of Under One Roof, in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and she’s been a video store owner since 1990. She buys, sells, rents, and rewards A students with free rentals. Twenty-five years in the business, Becky has earned her Ph.D in video renting.
Anyone know of a great video store that still exists in Japan? Come on, there must be oodles. This is the land that gave us Kurosawa and Miyazaki! And, oh yeah, the VCR! This 20-year-old store is in Hiroshima and it gives a fabulous alternate title to Birdman: “ignorance that brings an unexpected miracle.”
In honor of September’s Toronto International Film Festival, the list includes Queen Video, which has two locations, one on Bloor and the other on Queen, and a love of the weird. These guys can curate with the best of them. Hopefully, the festival brought in some good business and filmmaker stragglers.
Santa Cruz, Calif., is where Westside Video rules with rentals, sales, snacks, video games, and merchandise. They also write their own reviews. Take this bit, about After Earth; “Is this a good movie? Of course not. It’s directed by M. Night Shyamalan post-Unbreakable. However, it is watchable.” Sure sounds like a video store clerk we’d want to meet.
Someone’s got to warn the Aussies: KEVIN SMITH IS COMING!!! Yes, KS is going down under for a Jersey Boys tour. Hopefully, he’ll stop by Melbourne’s McAdam Flix, which still has stocked shelves full of DVDs. They’re particularly proud of this little movie, Mad Max: Fury Road, as well they should be.
McMinnville, Ore., is lucky to have Movietime Video treating its denizens with films and games and a website that features reviews by local writer David Bates, who can tap right into what makes movies set in school so great, and then provide the right recommendations. One of the requirements for would-be clerks at the store: “You should know, for example, who Martin Scorsese is, who Akira Kurosawa is. You should be able to name a few Coen brothers films. You don’t need to have seen everything, but you need to be able to carry on a conversation.”
Any video store that can inspire tattoos is worth honoring. Visart in Charlotte, N.C. is a beloved store (thanks for the tip, Trevor Curtis!) and had auspicious beginnings. It’s been told that its founder could not find Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai or Renoir’s Grand Illusion, but every outlet he checked stocked many copies of Ernest Saves Christmas. And Visart was born! A recent move suggests it’s finding a way to keep videos flying off the shelves.
Who remembers when they turned 20? The world was your oyster, right? Well, at 20 years young, Video Strip in Chicago is full of moxie. Owner Joe Trutin rules Archer Avenue with 20,000-plus titles and more than 10,000 patrons served. Anyone want to nominate Joe to the Hall of Fame of video store owners?
Toronto’s Eyesore Cinema created something wonderful: Independent Video Store Day, which it calls “an attempt to consolidate the power of the thousands of independently owned video stores still in operation across the continent and worldwide.” With Facebook posts that read like the internal musings of a bored video store clerk, Eyesore keeps clerk consciousness alive on the Internet and keeps Toronto’s fans of rare, cult and hard-to-find films happy. Or, at least, less sullen.
Look at this place. Is it from the set of a Hitchcock film? Can it be real? Can Memphis’ last video store really be so awesome? Forget visiting Graceland; go to the Lodge for its weird films and for its weekly “Sh-tfest,” which features the best worst movies you’ve never seen every Sunday at midnight.
Ah, Hollywood. West Hollywood, to be exact. Video West caters to mainstream, Adult, as well as specialty tastes. At over 30 years old, the store deserves crazy respect. And it’s hiring! Clerk position only pays $9 an hour, but free movie rentals are equivalent to two years blown at USC Film School, right?
If this list were actually ranked, Lost Weekend would definitely be near the top. The San Francisco video store has brought video enjoyment to the Bay Area for 20 years — and not just in the form of rentals. Lost Weekend hosts delightful, themed comedy events, like playing episodes of Full House on mute while local comedians improvise new dialogue. The community seems to agree: When the store was in danger of shuttering, locals successfully funded an Indiegogo campaign to keep its doors open.
Is there really a town called Milwaukie in Oregon? Can there really be a video store with a wide selection of movies as well as fabulous milkshakes and iced coffee drinks? Indeed, Cinemug could learn from these guys. Great American has been serving up films since 1983. They support the community. They have awesome s’mores shake recipes. And they survived the big box video stores, but still have to wrestle with the coffee conglomerates. You go, girl!
Long Island’s (last?) great video store has over 40,000 titles, including all the foreign, horror, exploitation, porn, you could want. And sports. This is Long Island, after all, where even the cinephiles play hard. And go long for 112.
River Bottom Video
This little store in Bath, Maine was hit hard when its computers crashed and put owner Tim Goad $2,000 in the hole. But a surge of local support got him back on his feet. Not that Tim isn’t plagued by those ungrateful renters who never return their movies. Tim’s hired a repo man. Perhaps he should play ’80s classic, Repo Man, at the store on constant repeat so that offending patrons get the hint.
Relatively young at 12 years old, Videotheque has managed to survive in the tough climate that is 21st century video store commerce. Nestled in Pasadena, the store has developed a rabid following of film buffs who appreciate its eclectic mix of foreign, indie, mainstream, and just plain weird. With director shelves, smart curation (there’s an Iraq war section that sounds intriguing), Videotheque is solace to a cineaste’s heart.
Video Free Brooklyn
Nevermind that Video Free Brooklyn is in Roston’s hometown of Brooklyn, nor that it’s owned by Aaron Hillis, who’ll be moderating the I Lost It At The Video Store book party at Book Court, nor its most awesome minimalist movie posters (for sale!) in the window. What makes Video Free Brooklyn great is that it’s well-curated by a smart and not-snotty-film lover who has supplied the neighborhood’s desperate need for a great video store. And with a sense of style. Just check out the weekly specials. Absolution Sunday? Absolute genius.