Virtual Cinema | A Nostalgic Look at Video Stores October 10, 2020
James Westby’s new documentary At the Video Store is a light-hearted paean to brick-and-mortar video stores—those late, lamented social gathering places. Cinephiles went there not only to rent hard-to-find flicks, but also for conversation, companionship, and community. In an age dominated by streaming services, it’s easy to forget what a cultural lifeline these stores once provided.
A Nationwide Phenomenon
At the Video Store looks at case studies around the country, such as Movie Madness in Portland, Oregon; Kim’s in New York City; Scarecrow Video in Seattle; and Video Americain in Baltimore. Sharing their memories are owners, clerks, and patrons, as well as celebrities including filmmaker John Waters and comedian Bill Hader—all devotees of their local video stores. Waters asserts that the midnight-movie phenomenon was inspired by cult titles featured at the stores.
Former Movie Madness employee Chantell Halsted remarks that, over the years, the store became “part of Portland’s social fabric. A store like that really makes a city.”
Meanwhile, in Houston . . .
Though not featured in the film, the “store that makes a city” in Houston was Audio/Video Plus, located on Waugh Drive in Montrose. Founded in 1978 by Lou Berg and Susan Gee, A/VP became known for elaborate themed displays, celebrity visits, “happy hour” rental discounts, and “midnight moonlight” sales with lots of free popcorn.
In 1984, Video Store magazine named Audio/Video Plus the No. 1 video store in the country. The advent of digital streaming eventually drove national chains and mom-and-pop video stores out of business, but A/V Plus survived longer than most. Berg died in 2009, and Gee closed the store in October 2012.
Never Too Much
Tayvis Dunnahoe, who writes about film under the pseudonym Benny Junko, acquired A/VP’s remaining inventory in 2015. His approach to preserving the materials has been meticulous and reflects his interest in sci-fi, horror, and exploitation cinema. He’s working on a book about the history of A/VP. Junko says Gee once told Berg that she thought they had “too much stuff” packed into every nook and cranny of the store. “Lou’s simple response,” says Junko, “was that someday, someone will come looking for this stuff, and we want to be the ones who have it.”
Underwriting for the Film Department is provided by Tenaris and the Vaughn Foundation. Generous funding is provided by Nina and Michael Zilkha; The Consulate General of the Republic of Korea; Franci Neely; Carrin Patman and Jim Derrick; Lynn S. Wyatt; ILEX Foundation; L’Alliance Française de Houston; and The Foundation for Independent Media Arts.