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The Best Video Store Category

Competing with big chains is tough, so independent outlets make hard-to-find and offbeat titles their niche.


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."

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