Few monuments of American culture have faded as quickly as the video store. Yet a smattering of independent video stores still call the Portland area home. We spoke to four owners with locations in and around the city to find out how and why they're keeping their stores afloat in a world run by streaming.
BEST SERVICE: Clinton Street Video
2501 SE Clinton St., 503-236-9030
Chris Slusarenko is just about the most helpful guy you can find behind a counter. The singer and guitarist for Eyelids worked at NW Film Center before he decided to "do something different" in 1996. The result is a charming store on Clinton Street. It's a small space and doesn't have a particularly large selection; most of their DVDs are stored in small plastic cases behind the counter. But the service—courtesy of Slusarenko and three other employees—is top-notch. Recommending movies makes up a majority of their job, and our visit proved that that's harder than it sounds. One customer simply asked for a movie to "match his mood." He walked away with a bizarre combo of Robocop and Hacksaw Ridge. "A lot of people still don't know what they're going to discover when they come in," Slusarenko says. But helping people discover movies is a passion of his that won't fade anytime soon. "I'm gonna do this until people tell me I can't do it anymore," he says.
BEST PRICES: Great American Video & Espresso
6130 SE King Rd., Milwaukie, 503-653-2680
Maybe this goes without saying, but running a video-rental store isn't exactly a high-profit venture. This Milwaukie-based location has made the best of an uncertain era by selling coffee and ice cream. "I'm surprised other video stores are alive that don't have secondary businesses," says owner Kent McCarty, 47. He bought the place in '88 and added coffee eight years later. Now, customers can rent movies while enjoying a $3 latte. A family business run by McCarty and his wife and daughters, Great American also has the best prices of the stores we visited. It has a wide selection of titles, geeky memorabilia lining the glass counters at the front of the store and a kids' play area with toys and colorful carpet. It all contributes to McCarty's "business of fun." "I'm the Willy Wonka of video stores," he says with a smirk.
BEST VIDEO STORE: Movie Madness Video
4320 SE Belmont St., 503-234-4363
Movie Madness founder Mike Clark is quick to quote P.T. Barnum when asked about his store's legacy. "Barnum said one time this his was "The Greatest Show on Earth,'" he says. "Well, this is the Greatest Video Store on Earth." In addition to being a circus, the place is also a museum.
In addition to housing thousands of titles—organized by director, genre and characteristics like "dead teens"—Madness displays old props and costumes from popular movies. A bar of soap that Brad Pitt held in fight club sits in a glass case, while an Alien facehugger model lies nearby. Clark says the memorabilia is what keeps the location special, but the catalog is so deep that it's possible to find practically any film. A highlight: a copy of Cowboy Bebop, with a notice on the DVD case that explains that the nonsensical subtitles inexplicably change languages. It's unclear whether cuts that deep have an audience, but that's not stopping Clark ."It warms my heart," he says about running a rental store. "It makes me very proud."
BEST THROWBACK: Impulse Video
6356 SW Capitol Hwy., 503-245-8351
Universal Video —originally opened in 1993—faced imminent doom before Karen Schnoll stepped in. Schnoll was a regular customer before buying the location in 2014. "I just thought it would be sad to see it go under," she says. "So I said, 'Why not?'" Now, Schnoll says her store—rechristened Impulse Video—has survived the streaming era thanks to its location along Capitol Highway. "I'm not sure we would survive if we were anywhere else," she says. It's a small venue, but its simple interior is just as much a blast from the past as the others—anyone who remembers their local Blockbuster will feel at home here. Impulse also houses the largest collection of VHS tapes we found; every store we visited sold theirs during the mid-2000s. "We'll be a museum in 10 years," says Schnoll.