As part of the upcoming 11-screen theater in Raleigh, North Carolina, the Alamo Drafthouse will be opening a free video rental store. Video Vortex, named after a long-running programming series of VHS-only schlock, will boast a library of over 75,000 titles to rent - all for free. Video Vortex will be managed by “VHS Culture Captain,” Josh Schafer.
The title library “includes the best, worst, and weirdest of cinema from dozens of countries across the globe,” and comes directly from San Francisco video rental institution Le Video, which had been open for 35 years before closing its doors in the Inner Sunset in December 2015. The collection was estimated at 90,000 titles at the time of Le Video’s closure, and the collection’s subsequent acquisition by Alamo and Annapurna Pictures (Phantom Thread, Zero Dark Thirty). A reversal of plans for the Le Video Archive, the videos were originally slated to remain in the then-new Alamo New Mission in San Francisco - to the point that New Mission programmer Mike Keegan went on record as saying he was “100 percent” certain the films would stay in San Francisco. The change in course stemmed from the New Mission inclusion of Lost Weekend Video, another beloved cinephile video store in San Francisco, that had lost its lease and set up shop inside the New Mission. At the time, the two video collections were meant to coexist in the theater.
Raleigh’s video store, according to Alamo’s press release, will differ greatly from the New Mission’s set-up. Video Vortex will offer their collection completely for free. The videos will be shelved inside a bar that will feature over 40 local draft beers (and the ability to take them to-go in canned growlers), video store-themed cocktails, and other non-alcoholic beverages like milkshakes. Food will be made available as well.
Inside Video Vortex will be a shop that rents VCRs and Blu-ray players for money. They will also have a selection of board games curated by the Mondo game team (responsible for The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31), which will be made for both purchase and free play in the bar. The shop will contain records, posters, toys, and merchandise from Alamo’s Mondo family of businesses. Large VHS-shaped tables will sport built-in screens and VCRs for in-bar viewing. This version of Video Vortex is much larger in scale than the announcements previously made in December of 2017.
Video Vortex plans to expand their offerings after the opening. The implementation of prepaid movie return-by-mail options, pizza delivery, and movie delivery are in the works. The Video Vortex programming will take place in the bar, as will Saturday Morning Cartoon Party - a themed screening of vintage cartoons and commercials that accompanies an all-you-can-eat cold cereal bar. Additionally, an annual VHS festival and tape trading convention called VHStival is planned for October 27, 2018.
The Alamo Drafthouse, which began with its Austin, Texas location, has shown bold plans for both its future and current locations (they have stated that they will be adding similar video stores in the towns “where there are no longer any video stores”). The concept of what amounts to a commercial library has not been tested in the cinephile community as yet. A great deal of trust is being shown by Alamo as they are allowing a combination of alcohol consumption and access to a fragile physical medium for rare and out-of-print films. It will likely prove to be a success for the company that continues to add dimensions to its business that caters to a dedicated community of film lovers and devotees to nostalgia.
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