There are balloons attached to a sandwich board outside Broadway Video off Redondo and, yep, Broadway. Uma Thurman smokes a cigarette on a bed in the “Pulp Fiction” poster that covers one of the window panels. Along the back wall, a big blue and red neon sign says, “VIDEO.”
Today, the first Friday in April, is the first night of the shop’s new extended hours, and owner Steve Tsepelis and store manager Phil Deubel are behind the counter ready to help customers.
A few young couples came in tonight to rent for the first time, while a few older customers came in, waved at Steve and Phil, and took their time exploring the shelves. Jonathan Montgomery has been renting here for three years. He said he first noticed Broadway Video while biking around town and decided one day to stop in.
“First, it’s so rad to be able to get recommendations and talk movies with someone in person,” he said. “It’s also nice to remember that movies can be a physical thing you can touch and explore, like how it feels walking around a library feeling all the books. I’ve noticed that I’ll finish all the movies I rent whereas with streaming I might spend a lot of time skipping around, starting multiple movies and never making it to the end.”
Some of his recent rentals include “City of God,” “The White Ribbon,” “Goldeneye,” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” Jonathan said he rented “Kiki’s Delivery Service” when Broadway Video was having a sale on Studio Ghibli rentals, and “Goldeneye” was a fun rewatch.
“I’ve seen it about a billion times.”
Broadway Video is the last video rental store of its kind in Long Beach, and one of a dwindling few left in the United States. Walking inside is like hopping back to a Friday night circa 1998, which is when Broadway Video opened at its current location. Signs above the shelves read Comedy, Drama, Horror, Foreign, LGBTQ, Animated, and New Releases. There’s also a section of movies for sale, a small vinyl collection and posters including a few beauties for the likes of “Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Reefer Madness” and “The Breakfast Club.”
Tonight is the first time Genesis Balandran and her boyfriend have come in to check out the store. She said they had just watched “The Last Blockbuster,” a Netflix documentary that has created millennial buzz around video rental stores.
“We were stoked to find that there was a video store near us in Long Beach,” she said. “I guess we were both feeling nostalgic for renting physical movies. I don’t think we’ve rented a physical movie in 10 years or so.”
Balandran’s movie choices tonight were “The Man That Killed Don Quixote” and “The Darjeeling Limited.”
“It’s still a cool experience to rent a movie in person. It’s like going to a record store and finding an album you love, you can pull it out and physically hold it. It’s a different feeling than streaming.”
You get a three-day rental at Broadway Video, whereas some streaming services give you a 24-hour window to watch a movie. You can get recommendations based on your tastes in film from a cinephile instead of an algorithm. There’s no need to worry about your internet going out or a film buffering, and you get to support a local business.
Business slowed at Broadway in recent years due to the increasing popularity of streaming. When the pandemic hit, Tsepelis closed his shop for three months because it wasn’t considered an essential business and when he finally reopened he cut his hours because business was slow.
“Sometimes it would just be Phil and I in here for hours with nobody coming in,” he said.
Another couple makes their way up and down the rows, then looks through the posters and the vinyl collection by the register. They rent a movie and buy a “Futurama” poster.
Store manager Phil Deubel has worked at Broadway Video for seven years. He’s always up for discussing movies as well as recommending movies to customers based on their likes. His enthusiasm is constant.
“My favorite things about working here are the customers and being around movies all day,” said Deubel, who is so beloved that there’s a “Phil’s Pics” section in the store. Originally from Germany, he loves quoting Ace Ventura movies but, “I only know the quotes in German. They didn’t translate ‘Alrighty then!’ So that always confused me as a kid.”
The original name of the shop was Broadway Video Act II because it was a second location. The original opened in 1985 about a mile down near Cherry Avenue. In 1996, the second location opened, and after a location change two years later, Broadway Video has been at the cross-streets of Broadway and Redondo since 1998.
The original store closed in 2007, but this location is hanging on. Tsepelis managed Broadway Video Act II for 21 years before buying it in 2017, officially changing its name to Broadway Video.
“This store has survived competition, format changes, a recession, and now a pandemic,” he said. “Fridays and Saturdays were our big days, we would have all three checkout terminals going and we hope to get back to that.”
Tsepelis, a Pennsylvania native, became acquainted with the original owners when he opened a record store in the area around the same time. After deciding to close the record store, he became the manager of Broadway Video. It was a job.
“Never in a million years did I ever think I would own this place.”
He said his routine is about the same as Sandi Harding’s, the manager of the last remaining Blockbuster in the United States (in Bend, Oregon) and subject of “The Last Blockbuster.” Because of the documentary, hundreds have flocked to Bend, and Steve hopes for the same.
“The scenes showing her buying candy and stuff, I do that. I know that routine,” he said. “I buy candy from Smart & Final up the street, I open up the store in the morning, and we have the same inventory system, but I don’t knit beanies …”
People are slowly starting to come back, including new customers that are between the ages of 25 and 40. Not long ago, a customer in her mid-20s came into the shop looking for the movie, “Singles.” Phil looked it up on the computer, then told the woman the movie should be available but for some reason was not on the shelf. She walked over to the “New Releases” section and rented “Promising Young Woman” instead.
But Phil kept looking and eventually found the movie and gave the woman a call. “We found the movie,” he told her. “Do you want to come back and get it? This rental is on us.”
She was a little hesitant due to parking in the area on a Friday night. “Don’t worry, let me know when you’re here and I’ll walk the movie out to you.”
And that’s Broadway Video. Tonight, customers rented “Annie Hall,” “Parasite,” “Wonder Woman 84,” “The Last Exorcism,” “Prozac Nation,” “Promising Young Woman,” and “Born in East L.A.” Deubel tearing off the sides of a carbon paper receipt, folding it in half, and placing it inside each DVD case.
Tsepelis leans against the Drama movie shelf and says the common thread between working at a record store and Broadway Video, is “making people happy. I hear people say this album changed my life, or I loved this movie. I get to introduce them to something new.”
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