We'll always have Video Americain

For The Baltimore Sun

After a quarter-century on Cold Spring Lane, Video Americain, for years Baltimore’s best video store and a rare survivor, will be shutting its doors for good today.

Owners Barry and Annie Solan have spent the past three months selling off their stock of some 35,000 DVDs and VHS tapes; so far, Barry Solan estimates, they’ve sold about 60 percent of the stock, at prices ranging from just a couple bucks to over $100 (for some of the rarer, long-out-of-print collector’s titles). For today, they’re offering 40-50 percent off the marked prices – one last chance to take home that Akira Kurosawa DVD you’ve been eyeing for so long.

“It’s been great that, for 25 years, I could come down here and live in this community,” says Barry Solan, who refuses to get too down about closing the last of what had been a successful chain of video stores that once included branches in Towson, Charles Village, Washington, Takoma Park and elsewhere. But the reality is that, once the he locks the doors of the former Roland Park gas station that has housed Video Americain -- the name is an homage to "Casablanca," wherein Rick and Ilsa rekindle their romance at Rick's Cafe Americain -- since 1989, it’ll be all over but the shouting. And, of course, the hauling – he and Annie will still have several thousand tapes and discs to haul back to a storage locker near their home in Newark, Del.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Barry Solan, in mock horror at the thought of no longer having a store to run, a clientele to hobnob with or a steady stream of customers to call his friends. “I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when there’s no stage anymore. I get so frightened.”

While they plan to remain active and continue to visit Baltimore, the Solans hope to enjoy their retirement back in Newark. They’ve done OK selling off their rental stock, and will continue selling, through Amazon and elsewhere. They’ve got some rental properties generating income. Barry, a garrulous sort who seems to have never met a person he couldn’t call “friend,” says he’d like to start working at a local hospice, perhaps, helping to cheer patients.

Makes sense. The movies and camaraderie that have been an earmark of Video Americain for its entire run have been cheering Baltimoreans for 25 years.

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