The screen is about to go dark at Video Americain in Roland Park. But there is a plan to keep the store’s collection of more than 30,000 titles together for a sequel after the doors close in January.
The Baltimore Video Collective, a group of local film preservationists, is negotiating with the owners, Annie and Barry Solan, to buy the store’s stock. Eric Hatch, programming director for the Maryland Film Festival, who is involved with the collective, said the group hopes to open a nonprofit video store, owned by employees and stocked with the Video Americain library.
“Video stores are never going to be a boom business again,” Hatch said. “But they might be able to do a modest business the way record stores do these days. People thought record stores would be dead in 2013. In Baltimore at least, there are more vinyl record stores now than when I moved here in 1996.”
The Solans have owned and closed five previous video stores in the area, and each time sold off the films to customers, one by one. But this time, Barry Solan said, they want to keep their collection intact, selling to one buyer.
“After a quarter century, when you’ve been accumulating an archive like this, [just as an] entity in itself it becomes something,” Solan said. “You start off just wanting to be a good video store. But with the death of repertory cinema, the few very, very good video stores in the country became the film archives.”
The collective is planning a fundraiser to help pay for this archive; the Solans are collecting names of people interested in helping. And they’re keeping Video Americain open for a few more months, even though they are losing money. Annie Solan said they believe in the collective’s mission, which is “to promote film culture, to engage in discussions and have the community around the film culture that’s been so delightful to me, so valuable to me personally, and I think what made the store a special place.”
The video collective hopes to recreate that special place somewhere around Station North, or maybe in Hampden. Regular customers said they will miss going to the store because they can talk to people knowledgeable about films.
“These guys, I can sit and chat with them about any subject, and if there’s something I can’t find, they can find it for me,” said Jeffrey Kliman, a Video American regular. “They’re film nerds in the pleasant sense.”
But there aren’t enough film nerds left who want to rent their movies in person to keep the business afloat, which is why the Solans are closing shop. Annie Solan said she’ll miss helping customers find that gem among the thousands of movies, old and new, mainstream and cult, when the store closes.
“There’s nothing to me more pleasurable than for someone coming in, you know, looking around, ‘Uhhh, what movie am I going to watch tonight,” she said. And it doesn’t take but a few questions before she can say, “'There’s this awesome movie called “Siam Sunset” and you’ve never heard of it, but [if you like] dark comedies, you’ll love this movie.’”