"Coming in here every day, it takes me back in time," says Theresa Mercado. "I feel like 'Ahh...there's a video store!'"
She's standing in The Archive, a video store that opened in Aurora in October, surrounded by a sun-splashed aura of Jack-O-Lanterns and VHS boxes, masks and monsters, Alf posters and McDonald's Halloween buckets. Mercado is already well known and much esteemed by Denver film fans as the ghoul boss of the long-running horror film series Scream Screen, and the newly minted shop at 1431 Dayton Street is equally certain to excite Mile High movie nuts.
Tucked away off East Colfax and packed with cinematic goodies, including oodles of VHS tapes and Blu-rays, the Archive is something of a hybrid. The location performs double duty as a retail and resale location for physical media old and new, as well as the western distribution headquarters for its owner, the badass cult-film restorer Vinegar Syndrome, based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mercado is employed by Vinegar Syndrome as manager and majordomo of the Colorado Archive.
And she's a good choice: For Mercado, being a curator and retailer of film and video isn't just business, it's personal.
"I grew up on VHS, and I grew up in a video store," she recalls, "and before streaming and before cable was affordable, my mom would take me every Friday night to North Huron Video in Thornton, which is long closed, to rent Faces of Death tapes and Maniac, and all the stuff that I probably shouldn't have been watching at that age. ... I would also have friends over and we'd order pizza, we'd watch VHS, we'd go to the video store, and that was my weekend. That was such an integral part of me growing up, and the person that I became."
Those early experiences of sharing challenging, intriguing cinema were just a preview of her later career. Mercado has been bringing cult-film presentations to the area for more than a decade now, usually with live-music accompaniment. She began by hopping around to various Denver watering holes, tearing through screenings of John Waters and the Coen brothers films, before bringing her flagship programming venture, Scream Screen, to the Sie FilmCenter, the home base for nonprofit Denver Film, in 2015. Scream Screen, which has also traveled to Albuquerque, Portland, Salt Lake City, Austin, Chicago and even Gothenburg, Sweden, became legendary for its unique presentations, cool guests and Mercado's own meticulous themed costumes, and it remains a favorite in Denver.
Mercado believes the Archive will likewise find an audience whose fervor matches her own, and her convictions are only bolstered as a steady stream of customers comes through the store, hunting the shelves and excitedly bringing their stacks to the counter.
"As you look around the store," she says, gesturing at the bustling background, "for a lot of people, physical media is not dead, and not everybody is streaming movies. Or some people stream but still want physical, tangible media. We have collectors and amazing customers that love this stuff. There's a thrill that goes along with digging and finding that treasure that's specific to you, going through everything that's awesome and knowing that every time you come here, there will be different media. From brand-new, fancy Blu-ray to old VHS tapes to Laserdisc, there's always gonna be a new treasure to be found."
And that's no exaggeration. The Archive is indeed full of gems for film lovers. There are shelves stacked high with VHS, including more Dark Shadows tapes than we've ever seen in one place before. There's an extremely tempting Laserdisc section, an Import area for those who boast a region-free media player, and even a small vinyl area, brimming with horror soundtracks. The Blu-ray selection in particular is outstanding, highlighting a plethora of cool boutique labels, including Altered Innocence, American Genre Film Archive and Saturn's Core, among others. The collection is anchored physically and philosophically by Vinegar Syndrome's catalogue of restorations, which is also what the Archive has built its brand around, Mercado explains.
"Vinegar Syndrome specializes in Blu-rays, but we're starting to get more into 4k Ultra HD," she says. "We put out approximately three to four of our films a month, which are all film restorations. We do all of the restoration work ourselves at our lab in Connecticut, and we only restore things that were shot on film. We also only release things that have never been on Blu-ray or that have not been released on UHD, so that's the first time they’re releasing on the format we are releasing them on."
Over the last decade, Vinegar Syndrome has been growing as fast as its eclectic catalogue, and the intention to expand distribution led the company to Denver. "A couple years ago, they were looking to come further west. It's cheaper, both in terms of shipping to get orders out to the West Coast, and just having a more centrally located hub," Mercado explains. "And eventually they decided on Denver."
That's where Mercado came in. A longtime fan of the label's work, she met Vinegar Syndrome project manager James Neurath through a mutual friend during the company's westward move, and shortly after, she applied to work with Vinegar Syndrome in Denver. The company moved to Brighton in October 2020, and then to the current Aurora location in April 2021. Soon Mercado was helping tackle Vinegar Syndrome's busy distribution schedule as an events coordinator, working out of the same location that now also houses the Archive.
"We actually started doing shipping for the entire western United States out of here," she says "and have been for the last two years. So this store is kind of a corner of our space, and back there is all shipping, warehouse inventory setup, garage, everything."
Once on a roll with the distribution work, she lost no time in going to bat for the possibility of a new retail incarnation for the company, which it was already dabbling with to some success back in Bridgeport. Mercado was a big fan of the original location, also called the Archive and run by Neurath, and wanted to kick-start something similar locally.
"That store has been open for six years, and it is amazing, and it's done really well, so when Vinegar Syndrome came out here, I was definitely pushing very hard from the beginning [that] Denver has a voracious horror community, we have a voracious film community; I would be shocked if a store did not do good out here," Mercado says. "My colleague and boss James Neurath immersed himself in the area for the last two years and was like, 'There's definitely a market here.'"
For the moment, the plan is to grow that market slowly but surely while continuing to fine-tune the space; the Archive is currently only open part-time while establishing its retail footing.
"We are only open right now three days a week — Thursday, Friday and Saturday — but we always have new and used media every weekend," Mercado says. "We're always buying media, everything across the board: Laserdisc, Vinyl, VHS, Blu-ray, DVDs, posters and one-sheets. We are constantly amassing more, so that for our customers and repeat customers, there will always be new stuff here."
More changes are planned, including an expansion of store hours and event opportunities. "The goal is to be open four and five days as we can," she adds. "We want it to be a cool space, and it's constantly growing and evolving. We definitely want to do events, meet-and-greets and signings, eventually."
It's already a haven for those who enjoy their genre film with a heady whiff of technological nostalgia, and for everyone who can remember the ritual of piling in Mom's minivan with their friends to explore the local video shop.
"I definitely have an affinity for the nostalgia of physical media, and to work in an environment that actually celebrates this stuff and preserves film makes this my dream job. To be surrounded by people like this who love the things I love, and celebrate films and come up with stacks of VHS to the counter...." She pauses, letting it all sink in.
"It's amazing! That there's a community and that we are building more community and finding each other, it's wonderful," she concludes. "This is our people. This is me when I'm not here."
The Archive is located at 1431 Dayton Street, Aurora. To learn more, follow the Archive on Instagram @thearchivecolorado, and on Facebook. See more about Vinegar Syndrome at vinegarsyndrome.com.