In the course of a going-out-of-business sale that has been dragging on at the Charles Village Video Americain for months, owner Barry Solan estimates he’s sold about two-thirds of his roughly 30,000-title inventory.
Each sale, he and his wife, Annie, admit, is like saying good-bye to one of their children.
“But so many fabulous people have come in,” says Solan, determined to look on the bright side. “I really mean it when I say, ‘At least they’re going to a good home.’”
Video Americain’s 19-year ride in Charles Village, operating out of a cramped basement at 3100 St. Paul St., is about to reach its end. The Solans say they’ll be closing for good this Sunday. Which means that Baltimore’s movie lovers have less than 72 hours not only to pay a final visit to one of the city’s last great video stores, but also to take advantage of their closing sale. Some 10,000 titles are still up for grabs.
Thursday, as a steady stream of customers stopped by to help pick the shelves clean and maybe reminisce a little about the good old days, the Solans refused to look back in sorrow. Selling off the stock here has helped them pay off some “significant” debts, they say. Besides, they’ll still be running the Video Americain on Coldspring Lane in Roland Park, so it’s not like they’re abandoning the rental business altogether.
And the Charles Village store has had a great run. It’s been a place where film lovers could count on finding almost any movie, no matter how esoteric or exotic. It’s been a place where the people behind the counter could offer suggestions on which Luis Bunuel film is the most accessible, which John Ford western best exemplifies his greatness, which of the low-budget grindhouse films of the 1970s is the grisliest, or the silliest, or the sexiest.
Business hadn’t been so good recently, the Solans say. So many people simply get their movies through Netflix, or by having them streamed directly into their homes. That’s been especially true of college students, who – since the Charles Village Video Americain sits just one block downhill from Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus – had always been the store’s best customers.
“The kids are the ones who are most likely to drop videos as their preferred viewing system,” Barry Solan says. Adds Annie, with the resigned air of someone who recognizes the inevitable, “It’s been a death by 5,000 cuts thing.”
Sadly, the Roland Park store could soon follow suit. The Solans say their landlord there, with whom they continue to have a wonderful relationship, is hoping to sell the building and retire to Florida. The couple has until next June to find a new location for their store, and they’re working hard to do just that. But finding somewhere nearby with a reasonable rent won’t be easy, they fear.
“We’re making a really good-faith effort to find another location,” Barry Solan says.
As of Thursday, all former rentals in the Charles Village store – VHS and DVDs – were for sale at 40 percent off the marked price. Among the films still available: a VHS of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush,” for $3.60. And how could anyone turn down a VHS of the laughably low-budget “Robot Monster,” starring an alien gorilla wearing a deep-sea diver’s helmet complete with rabbit ears, for only $1.20? Or a DVD of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s heartbreaking turn as an ex-con struggling to establish a relationship with her young daughter in 2005’s “Sherrybaby” for just $3?
“Tell everyone that we still have many many thousands of movies left,” Barry Solan asks.
Sadly, the Video Americains of the world are becoming modern-day dinosaurs, and they’re practically extinct. If you’ve got a good home to offer a great movie, be sure to stop by.