In Capitol Hill, proximity is everything. It's why the King Soopers there might have the tiniest, most frustrating jam of a parking lot in the city but remains a top shopping destination. Just down the block, there's a video store called Videotique, a similarly cramped but popular spot for Cap Hill regulars. And come August 17, fellow independent film rental retailer, Video One, will set up shop -- just three blocks away.
When I went down to Videotique last weekend to chat with owner John Donahoe about the competition, the place was bustling. I waited a good fifteen minutes to speak to Donahoe as a fluctuating crowd of regulars checked in and out, chatting about film picks and the Olympics. One gentleman even remarked how nice it must be to own a movie store because of the unlimited number of films one could potentially watch. Donahoe gently nodded in agreement, from behind a counter that resembled cartoon Lucy's "psychiatric help" stand -- which seemed fitting, given Donahoe's longevity here.
Donahoe and his partner opened the low-key spot in 1985, and although Videotique carries many mainstream titles and new releases, it is better known for its harder-to-find cult film selection, and most importantly, as an oasis for queer cinema.
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"I try to stay away from labels, but we're the 'gay' store," says the soft-spoken Donahoe, referring to a healthy selection of pornographic movies, yes, but also a proud and extensive list of queer art house films and full DVD collections of all seasons of shows like The L-Word and Queer As Folk.
Video One, by comparison, is known for its sheer volume of titles, especially DVD releases of older films. "In the last three years, I've brought our inventory from 7,000 DVDs to close to 30,000," says Video One owner Jeff Hahn. Hahn was a decade-long employee of the video store before he purchased Video One in 2010 from its previous owner, Dick Bunch. He says he tried to warn Bunch of the inevitable switch to DVD (and eventual extinction) of VHS rental, but didn't see much movement toward the now staple home movie medium. After buying the store a few years ago, Hahn made it his mission to create a massive selection. Video One was, for the better part of thirty years, the brightly lit, two-story VHS palace at 1245 East Colfax Avenue, a building displaying its well-known and oddly scaled painting of James Dean. In 2009, prior to Hahn's purchase of the store, it downsized considerably and moved into a nondescript storefront, just across Lafayette at 1301 East Colfax Avenue. Hahn says the new space's lack of visibility, combined with public perception of a downward spiral of the traditional video store business model, led to an immediate 30 percent loss of Video One's business.
This is a huge part of why Video One is now moving into its new spot at 600 Downing Street -- location, location, location. Hahn also says the switch to landlords who are actual people -- unlike Triton Properties, the corporate entity management company now in charge of Video One's location -- made the decision an easy one. "Our new landlords are really, really sweet, and the building is adorable," Hahn says of the trademark light-purple building, which some might recognize as the former longtime home of women's apparel store Twice As Haute.
Both Donahoe and Hahn spoke kindly of their competition, mutually echoing the benefits of having another video store close to recommend to a customer when their store doesn't have a certain sought-after film. But in Capitol Hill, proximity is everything. And for two local independent movie rental retailers, a few blocks could mean everything.