Recently, cinema chain Alamo Drafthouse made headlines by announcing they were opening a brick-and-mortar venture that was seemingly right out of the 1980s: A video rental store.
If that seemed bold, wait until you hear the store’s business model: Every single movie will be available to rent for free — all 75,000 of them.
The Godfather? Free. Hard Boiled? Free. Jumanji 2: Welcome to the Jungle? Sure, why not?
Called Video Vortex, the first store is in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is currently under construction, set to open sometime this year.
At first blush, the idea might seem pretty wild: How can any retail business thrive by giving away it’s main product? But Video Vortex also has VCRs and Blu-ray players available for rent, sells beer (canned growlers from 40-plus local draft beers), board games, memorabilia, and more. So in a way, this idea is kinda genius and answers the riddle posed by the store opening in the first place: How do you get people into a video store in 2018? Give away the movies, yet charge for ancillary products — not entirely unlike how movie theaters make the bulk of their revenue at the concession stand.
“We are designing a place where fellow movie lovers will want to spend their time,” said Video Vortex’s Kat Shuchter. “While we aren’t making money off the rentals, we expect to make our profits by offering cinephiles the best in beer, food, and merchandise.”
Video Vortex started years ago as a recurring screening program that focused on straight-to-video movies in Austin, Texas, where the Alamo cinema chain was founded.
“For me, one of the most thrilling aspects of Video Vortex is the ability to connect with renters and cultivate diverse exchange about film culture,” says manager and “VHS Culture Captain” Josh Schafer. “Making personal connections and offering recommendations through a knowledgeable and passionate staff, it’s something that slays an algorithm any day. Being able to continue the age-old video-store tradition of fostering a movie-loving community is going to be a really fun, exciting and special experience for everyone involved.”
The collection of over 75,000 titles was originally purchased from Le Video Archive in San Francisco and was intended to live in the lobby of the San Francisco Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. But between acquiring the collection and opening the theater, the Mission neighborhood’s Lost Weekend Video lost their lease and needed a new home. Lost Weekend set up shop at the San Francisco Alamo, and the Le Video archive remained in storage until the right home for it could be found.
“This collection of over 75,000 titles includes the best, worst, and weirdest of cinema from dozens of countries across the globe, including hundreds of complete catalogs of film’s greatest auteurs,” Shuchter said. “Whether you’re an action junky, a horror-hound, a Francophile, or in search of some insane oddities, Video Vortex will offer you an unparalleled selection, for free.”
Watch a visualization of the store and theater space, above.