Viva Video West!

It’s that time of the year when I pull out my collection of vintage Christmas movies and try to remember how to use the DVD player that has been collecting dust since the last awards screener season. There are a select few holiday classics like “White Christmas,” “Christmas Story” and “Christmas Vacation” that I bought my own copies of rather than paying to rent them again every year. 

I do appreciate the convenience of being able to rent a movie instantly on my smart TV for a few bucks but can recall a day when things weren’t so easy. Maybe I never had to walk uphill through a foot of snow to watch a movie but a few decades ago, I did have to get into my convertible and drive all the way down Santa Monica to Video West on Larrabee. Once upon a time, every mall in the country had a Blockbuster but only West Hollywood had Video West.

Back at the dawn of the ’80s, this tiny shop was one of the first in the area to rent the then-brand-new videotapes to customers who had invested in the latest innovation in home entertainment: the VHS player. In those early days, the players weren’t cheap, starting at about $300. The tapes were pretty pricey, too, making the opening of a video store an expensive proposition. Way back then, video stores encouraged potential customers to purchase memberships which included lower rates on rentals. In the mid-80s, a weekend of movie viewing at home could set you back $5 per film, plus charges for late returns or failing to remind.

What made Video West unique was its eclectic selection as well as its local clientele. It was not unusual to find famous faces checking out the new arrivals shortly before closing time. Those in the know knew that this was the place to find a rare cult classic as well as the latest box office hits. This was the place I discovered made-for-video gems like “Girl Groups” and “Mondo Elvis.” The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, adept at remembering the tastes of the store’s regulars.

The shop was also the go-to place to find gay-related vids including gay erotica. It was this niche that made Video West different from chains like Blockbuster which offered multiple copies of the latest releases but avoided controversial content. The shop continued to serve the gay audience as long as it remained in business.

Alas, the video rental store, like the Photomat, had built-in obsolescence. As technology moved ahead at an impressive speed, DVDs replaced VHS tapes and Netflix replaced the neighborhood video store. Having your entertainment mailed to your home was so much more convenient than having to drive to the mall, park, and fight other customers for the newest release that Blockbuster locations closed by the hundreds. When Netflix added streaming to DVD rentals, competitors like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video quickly joined them and “cord-cutting” became the hip way to get your movie fix.

Video West lasted longer than most, appealing to cinephiles who prefer the physical DVD experience but finally closed its doors in 2015, two years after the last company-owned Blockbuster bit the dust. So this holiday season, as you relax in front of your 80-inch smart TV, perusing the thousands of streaming choices at your fingertips (or voice control), stop to raise a toast to Video West for being WeHo’s own go-to place for innovative movie choices.

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hifi5000
hifi5000
28 days ago

Buying and renting DVDs and VHS tapes might be old-fashioned,but you won’t have to worry about the stream you were watching to start buffering.
Also you don’t have ISPs looking over your shoulder to see what you are watching,especially gay content (porn). You were dealing with a local video store,not a faceless video provider.

Last edited 28 days ago by hifi5000
Randy
Randy
28 days ago

I lived on Larrabee for 5 years with my first BF. This was our staple, as well as Tango Grill, for dinner, on Wednesday nights. I miss those simpler times. And the problem with online? Most services are like digging through a discount bin of movies. Hodgepodge. They aren’t organized in a usual logical order, and every movie you may want to watch (if available), is on a different streamer, or only available for rent, or not available, at all. You don’t look for movies … they are pushed to you, based on algorithms. Video stores had things organized, usually… Read more »

Rodrigo
Rodrigo
27 days ago
Reply to  Randy

Tango Grill was awesome! I still live on Larrabee and the space it occupied continues to turn over, nothing sticks.

Ron Hamill
Ron Hamill
20 days ago
Reply to  Linda Cauthen

There was also a Video West here in Studio City that was just as popular because it also had the eclectic content available. As far as those concerned about what the streaming services know about you, I have to think of more than just a few times hearing from an VW employee about which tapes famous or not so famous person rented.

Last edited 20 days ago by Ron Hamill
carleton cronin
29 days ago

Alistair Sims as Scrooge on tape still plays at my house each year. Best Scrooge never – fictional, that is. Thanx for the memories…

angry gay pope
29 days ago

I met a guy who used to work there in the 1980s. He said TOM CRUISE and soap stars would come in and rent gay porn as it was the only place to find it. I had a friend who was in their and MADONNA walked in. She was recording an album (True Blue?) across the street at larabee studios (Flaming Saddles rip). She said “Their vcr is broken and I just got a copy of my new video. Can I watch it here?” And they popped it in and everybody got a free madonna viewing party! Try that today… Read more »

Randy
Randy
28 days ago
Reply to  angry gay pope

“Thriller” was also recorded at Larrabee Sound. Place was still open when I lived on that street (but not that late in the day).

Last edited 28 days ago by Randy
angry gay pope
26 days ago
Reply to  Randy

Yes, also songs by Cher and others.

SeeMe
SeeMe
29 days ago

Thank you for that walk down memory lane. It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 6 years since they closed, even as it feels like a lifetime ago we used to actually rent videos. All these “conveniences” at our fingertips have robbed us of knowing how to interact with others and to share spaces. For every gain, there is a loss.

angry gay pope
26 days ago
Reply to  SeeMe

On the other hand 90% of the shop was fluffed with VHS tapes nobody rented 🙁

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