The Best Video Store Category

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Renting a video can be like exploring new worlds during a visit to one of the countless independent video stores scattered around Southern California. Instead of 100 copies of the latest releases, these shops are apt to have shelves bursting with eclectic foreign films, classic dramas, rare silent movies and trashy B-flicks.

Despite growing competition from cable satellite and pay-per-view, the video rental business is experiencing a slight upswing. The Video Software Dealers Assn. reported that consumers spent $8.1 billion on video rentals in 1998--an increase of 9%. Each week, 25% of American households rent a video, according to the association.

But if you aren't a blockbuster chain, things aren't too bright. About 2,500 U.S. retailers--mostly small operations--went out of business in 1998.

Thriving mom-and-pop video stores say they attract and keep loyal customers by offering service, selection and an atmosphere where movie buffs feel right at home. Many stores sponsor special events, book signings and screenings. Also, independent stores can foster a sense of camaraderie among film-loving customers as they bump elbows and exchange advice and titles.

Looking for video stores with character? Here are some to check out, arranged north to south.

La Canada Video, 520 Foothill Blvd., La Canada, (818) 790-4050. Susy and Doug Ball from Glendale like to stop by weekly at La Canada Video to check out the new French film releases. "We're foreign film nuts and we've recently rented Iranian, Italian and Chinese films here," Susy says. "There is always something new here."

Owner Hamlet Shahbazian's store has been in this location for more than 20 years. He says his well-stocked documentary and classic shelves reflect the upscale tastes of the neighborhood. "For example, we're one of the few places that has 'Berlin Alexanderplaz' for rent," he says, adding that his family section has many popular titles as well.

Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee, 5006 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, (818) 506-4242. With more than 52,000 videos for rent, Eddie Brandt's has the area's definitive selections of vintage films as well as classic TV shows. "People usually discover us when they are desperate to find a title, which we probably have," says Donavan Brandt, who, along with sister Heidi, mother Claire and father Eddie, runs the store.

"I can't get enough of the old romantic films," says regular customer Elora Alden from West L.A. who shows off her recent picks: "His Girl Friday," "Susan Lenox" and "Saratoga Trunk."

In addition to its thick catalog of rental titles, Eddie Brandt's special-orders hard-to-find videos, including B westerns and sci-fi schlock. Brandt's also has posters, lobby cards and 21 1/2 tons of movie stills for sale.

Video West, 11376 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-0096, and 805 Larrabee St., West Hollywood, (310) 659-5762. "We have lots of families; in fact, we have customers opening up accounts who used to come here as kids," says Raman Lazar, manager of the Studio City location.

Video West prides itself as a neighborhood store that can offer any family member the perfect movie. Sections include art house, action adventure, silent, Hollywood documentaries and gay- and lesbian-themed. One shelf displays all Oscar best picture films--complete with the 1928 silent film "Wings." Best foreign film winners are also located here, beginning with the 1951 "Rashomon."

Mondo Video A-Go-Go, 1718 N. Vermont Ave., Hollywood, (323) 953-8896. High camp and bad films rule at Mondo Video A-Go-Go, where the husband-and-wife team of Robert and Chris Schaffner has been renting tasteless and trashy flicks for more than 10 years. "We specialize in American cheese-a-rama from days gone by," Chris says. "We love getting special orders for what people call the impossible finds."

Some of the more hard-to-find titles, according to Chris, include "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry," "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" and the 1976 Jodie Foster film, "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane."

Mondo's favorite movie-makers are highlighted around the store--Ray Harryhausen, John Waters, Al Adamson and, of course, B-film legend Russ Meyer.

Rocket Video, 726 La Brea Ave., Hollywood, (323) 965-1100. Manager Jay Friedman says while Rocket Video has regular customers, the store often does double duty as a research library for the entertainment business. "Writers, casting directors and location scouts rent 20 or 30 films at a time," he says.

Rocket has a large selection of cult movies, kids' movies and plenty of film noir titles. "We also get a lot of film students who are just discovering Hitchcock, Truffaut and Godard," Friedman says. "Every year, we know where school starts because first-year students are all looking for the same stuff."

Cinefile, 11280 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 312-8836. While opening an independent video store today may be a risky venture, Cinefile--just 1 year old--is finding its customer base growing because of its location next door to the Nuart Theater, home to art films and revivals. "We have a great relationship with the theater and will display videos of directors and actors featured in their films," says Vicki Campagna, one of the five owners.

Every Friday, a disc jockey spins vinyl in the store as customers browse through videos in the Euro-Trash, Italian Horror and Big Goofy Monsters categories.

Continental Shop, 1619 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 453-8655. Located in a tiny storefront, the Continental Shop houses a dazzling array of British films, TV series and specials.

Owner Brian Clewer has amassed more than 6,000 British tapes since he took over the business in 1961, back when it sold Brit food, newspapers and knickknacks. "We are the source for all things British," says Clewer, who adds that he can transfer European-format tapes to American format for a minimal charge.

Clewer is particularly proud of his British TV collection, which includes copies of "Steptoe and Son" (the basis for "Sanford and Son"), the 1952 series "Mind Your Language" and the 1948 television film "Wacko," a comedy starring Jimmy Edwards.

Vidiots, 302 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 392-8508. "People just love to come in here and talk movies," says Cathy Tauber, co-owner of Vidiots. "They like to pick our brains for recommendations."

There's plenty to recommend from Vidiots' 18,000 titles, which encompass spy films, cult favorites, documentaries and foreign movies. Tauber says she relies on her salespeople when ordering new additions. "Our staff is very film knowledgeable. They'll say, 'Let's have more Hong Kong adventure,' or 'How about more spaghetti westerns?' "

Vidiots has more than 1,000 DVD titles for rent, including big and little films such as John Cassavetes' "Minnie and Moskowitz," "Two-Lane Blacktop" starring James Taylor and Dennis Wilson, and the documentary "Trekkies."

Movies and More, 4036 Centinela Ave., West Los Angeles, (310) 391-6206; 8302 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 658-5151; 8950 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 858-8311. "We get to know our customers real well. That's what keeps them coming back," says Cynthia Vazquez, manager at the West Los Angeles location.

Customers are also coming back because Movies and More has a broad selection of foreign, action, wrestling, comedy and horror films. Children's films are well represented with numerous Disney and Little Rascals titles.

On the opposite end, the cult favorite section contains titles like "Muscle Beach Party," "Rabid Grannies" and "The Boneyard," a 1990 comedy starring Phyllis Diller and Norman Fell.

Video Out-Takes, 1014 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach, (310) 540-8913. Walking into Video Out-Takes feels like entering a house with its cheery front door, low ceilings and surrounding wood-framed windows. The homey ambience is appropriate considering that many of the 30,000 titles came from co-owner Tony Dunn's private collection. "Video is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment," says Dunn, who has been at this location for 20 years.

The store is full of nooks, crannies and corners where videos are categorized as classics, westerns, war, Japanimation and, well, there's even a Celebrity Nudity section. (No, it's not pornography.)

And if you want to quickly pick up your video, call ahead and use the store's drive-through window.

Ken Crane's DVD and Laserdisc, 15251 Beach Blvd., Westminster, (714) 892-2283. It's nearly impossible to count how many DVD titles are available at this Ken Crane's location--every week the store receives 30 to 50 new titles. "We have people coming from Ventura and Van Nuys to the store," says Jim Hunsaker, assistant manager.

"DVDs are not a specialty market anymore," says Hunsaker, adding that "regular" people are buying them because of quality and price.

Some of the more popular DVD titles for purchase are music, foreign, Japanimation and family fare. Special interest, sports and documentaries have big followings as well.

Video Movie Wholesalers, 1512 E. Edinger Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 550-0572. People sell their old videos for many reasons, Grant Trillwood says. "They are moving, they've seen them too many times or they need the money," says the owner of Video Movie Wholesalers, a business that strictly sells new and used videos.

Discontinued videos can be big money, Trillwood says. Some of the more coveted titles include "Back to the Future," "The Gods Must Be Crazy" and an off-the-wall horror flick, "Microwave Massacre." One of the most desired out-of-print videos is the Beatles' "Let It Be," which has sold for $150.

"But most of our used copies go for about $7 to $9," Trillwood says.

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