Vidiots Foundation works to keep the video store in community
In the age of mobile devices, apps, and streaming services, video stores are going the way of the Dodo bird. With even large video stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video closing shop, on Pico Boulevard, Vidiots is holding the line.
Located just a few blocks West of Santa Monica College, Vidiots first opened in 1985 with a focus on foreign, art, and hard-to-find titles. It started in one small store-front, being successful enough throughout the years to have multiple expansions, at one point including a 35 seat screening room called the Vidiots Annex.
Though many of these online streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime have posed a major challenge to traditional video stores, Vidiots has survived by keeping strong ties with its community.
Vidiots has always held events in the store since its founding. But now, thanks in part to the formation of the Vidiots Foundation, the store has been able to continue not only hosting filmmaker events, but also reach out to the surrounding community.
The foundation was formed two years ago and as of February, the store has officially been donated to its own foundation, thus making it a non-profit entity.
In this year alone, Vidiots in conjunction with radio station 89.9 FM KCRW, has been able to host conversations with actress Anjelica Huston, directors David O. Russell, Oliver Stone, Davis Guggenheim, and production designer Jeannine Oppewall.
In addition to conversations and lectures, Vidiots also hosts regular community events like a monthly spoken-word event called Talespin, and even a monthly movie trivia night. Co-founder Patricia Polinger said, "We wanted to be a place where people in the community can come together."
Sabrina Champi has a lifetime membership and has been visiting Vidiots with her 10-year-old dog Frank since he was a puppy.
"It's come in handy over the years," said Champi. "I've moved around but I always seem to come back here."
Local bartender and self-proclaimed film buff Ellis Hoffmeister actually moved to Santa Monica just for the store.
"I'm that much of a film junkie," said Hoffmeister, who owns a Blu-ray, multi-region DVD player, and a VHS player for those titles that never found their way onto digital disc.
Even employee Robbie McCluskey found his way to Vidiots as a fan.
“I was really surprised when I came," said McCluskey. "I didn’t know that the Santa Monica community was so close, because it’s not like that in most other parts of Los Angeles."
McCluskey, along with co-worker Ryan Marker started the store's Movie Trivia Night the first Saturday of each month at the start of the year.
Vidiots has amassed a strong following over the years thanks not only to their wide selection and community involvement, but also to a bevy of myths that include Quentin Tarantino being a former employee and secret celebrity backers, one name tossed out being Elton John.
Even if those specific rumors may not be confirmed, Vidiots has strong ties to Hollywood and the studio system. Some of their biggest fans included previous guests Huston, David O. Russell, and Jurassic Park star Laura Dern who has been invited for an upcoming event. They even have studios with membership accounts.
“My first week I took a call from Christian Bale and he was asking for a bunch of movies," said McCluskey. "He was researching a character.”
Producer Jonathon Fong of Muse Productions described how the company has an account for research. He found their selections very helpful when researching material by film director Monte Hellman.
"I watched all of his[Monte Hellman] movies and I rented them here. I don’t think you can do that through Netflix.” said Fong.
The store hasn't changed too much over the years, but they always make sure to stay up to date with all new releases.
"We have more new releases I would say than Netflix in terms of breadth of titles,” said co-founder Cathy Tauber.
One thing that has had to change are the co-owners roles within the foundation. “We have to focus more on fundraising, we’re used to making decisions on our own for all these years, it’s different." said Tauber.
Now answering to a board of supporters, they both are optimistic about the direction of the foundation. They are also working on turning customer film book donations into a free film book library.
”We love to teach screenwriting to middle schoolers, we love to have film festivals,” said Polinger. “This is a way that having the foundation can help sustain the whole thing.”