There may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Rick and Angela Martinez, recent transplants to SA, are planting the seeds of a Mom & Pop video store a few blocks away from La Tuna. In a tiny building with corrugated aluminum siding, the couple is collecting the best movies they can find, and renting them to bohemians.
There aren't a whole lot of tapes there yet. The cinderblock-and-wood plank shelves are filling, though, with everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Abominable Dr. Phibes. The inventory is organized into categories, like "Freshman Directors" and "Chick Flicks," that treat a sticky issue — the categorization of an eclectic cinematic world — with a sense of humor.
If the selection seems a little haphazard, it's because the Martinezes aren't going through the regular channels. They try to buy most of their films at flea markets and through secondhand Internet dealers, so if they happen across a pre-owned cache of Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder releases, those will hit the shelves before that copy of The Godfather that they'd have to buy new.
One benefit of this thrifty policy is that rental rates are low. Two nights cost two bucks, and if you're renting more than one tape, the due date is negotiable. Ten to 20 percent of the clientele are friends of the owners, so Rick and Angela haven't yet had to get into the enforcement mentality — a background check and drug test aren't yet (and likely won't ever be) requirements for membership.
The low-rent, do-it-yourself approach has mixed results when it comes to DVDs. Some would argue that this Planet should have avoided tapes from the beginning — that VHS is dying, and an all-DVD stock would have been a good investment. But you don't often find a box full of DVDs for $5 at a garage sale, and the store's owners decided they'd rather use their start-up capital on a good chunk of tapes than on a small shelf's worth of shiny discs. Hard to argue with that — and Rick promises that, for new releases that simply must be bought on the release date, DVD will be the format of choice.
For the time being, though, the two-room shop definitely has the feel of a neighborhood effort in which each customer has a real awareness of contribution to its survival. The front of the store has a few shelves of reasonably priced second-hand books, and it's easy to picture a guy walking in with a box of novels and saying "Hey, if I give you these, will you let me rent the Alien series for free?"
With First Fridays happening just a few blocks away, Planet of the Tapes has a built-in marketing tool, and the couple intends to take the opportunity to show local artists' work. Hopefully, this will help them spread the word among SA's tastemakers. Rick says that rental fees are already paying the store's rent (a shocking achievement after a mere two months), so every additional bit of revenue is being poured into new inventory. And with a couple of prominent lists posted where customers can request new titles, patrons can vote with their dollars.
And if you walk around the aisles singing The Simpsons' "Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius," chances are the staff will sing along.
Planet of the Tapes
414 Clay Street