Gina Izzo (VID 2, 2003-2010)
When I was hired at VID 2 by Don Malvasi in early 2003, I was a blonde, chipper, bright-eyed film co-ed at Temple. I had the customer service temperament of a lobotomized daycare teacher. Ending my stint as day manager, eight years later, my bullshit tolerance is almost nonexistent, and the criteria for what I consider to be bullshit is exceptionally vague. I smoke a lot of cigarettes and have a stink eye that could stop a Mack truck. That’s what TLA does to employees, or at least what eight years at TLA did to me. You call us snarky, but we didn’t all start out that way; it’s just hard to end up any differently. I blame TLA for stealing my twenties. I also blame my boyfriend, but only when I’m drunk.
I have lots of memories from TLA, good, bad, and ridiculous. I’ve made irreplaceable friends and some sworn enemies. I can relate to and empathize with many of the other employees’ eulogies. I also have a lot of feelings I’d rather deal with over a bourbon instead of the internet, so that being said, I’ll just contribute a couple noteworthy stories to the mix.
There was a guy who would call up every once in a while and ask about an “Alice in Wonderland” porn. He would go through a spiel asking questions all polite-like, then ambush me with some really vulgar lines from the video in a super creepy voice and hang up. The first time it happened I cried in the alley. The next several times I gave him a whole raft of shit.
I watched a relationship deteriorate, and it was our fault. A girl, we’ll call her Kate, called one night to add a new boyfriend, we’ll call him Ryan, to her account. Be it through a bad phone connection, a typo, or laziness, “Rex” (Rex is true) was typed instead of “Ryan”. Someone eventually added “Ryan,” the correct name, to the account, but no one bothered to delete the fictitious Rex. Years went by and we all knew that Rex/Ryan was one person, except for one employee. “Are you Rex or Ryan? You’re both on here.” Ryan went silent for a moment, then insisted he was her boyfriend and the only authorized user on the account. He took his movie and left. Half an hour later Kate called. “Can you please take Rex off my account? There is no Rex. Only Ryan.” I apologized for the typo, explained what had happened, and deleted Rex. Half an hour after that Kate called again. “Can you please print out my rental history for me to pick up?” An exasperated Kate trudged up to the counter another half-hour later and took her proof that there was no Rex. A few months later I saw Ryan in a bar getting cozy with a girl who was not Kate. Ryan, you are Rex and Kate never cheated on you. Kate, Ryan probably cheated on you. I don’t care how long that relationship lasts. The day it ends, Rex will be a part of the fight.
“Getting the drop box” became code for smoking a cigarette. Actually getting the drop box often meant inadvertently grabbing a DVD covered in lube while blindly reaching into the crate. Once it turned up a used condom. That was a low point.
A young, attractive husband and wife came in the store one night and opened an account. The woman nervously teetered outside the adult room, too shy to go in, as her husband picked a dirty movie for their date night. I didn’t see what they rented, but shame associated with porn was such a rare occurrence in the store that I found it endearing. The next afternoon, the wife came to the counter. “Oh my goodness, I’m so embarrassed but I have a problem. We’re new to the store, and my husband accidentally got the wrong movie. It’s all boys! Do you believe that?” Oh, sweet pea. I know some emo kids are androgynous, but Twink Party 12 clearly has no girls. I let her rent “Valentine’s Day” as a replacement. We usually don’t give people free stuff based on content, but this naive newlywed didn’t need “the talk” right then. Or maybe she did. Maybe I could have saved her years of a messy divorce by suggesting she rent American Beauty. I don’t care how long that relationship lasts. When he leaves her for Rex, she’ll know that rental wasn’t an accident.
I had to watch more porn than I ever thought I’d see in a lifetime because of false claims of defective DVDs. If you’ve ever lied about a defective disc to get a free “Barebacking Blacktino Ruffbuff Otters in Heat” video, screw you. And if you came into the store while Roz and I were working, we probably had porn playing behind the counter.
It wasn’t all smut, though. I have a fuzzy blue scarf knitted for me by the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet. She brought us treats every Christmas and is a real connoisseur of kung-fu movies. Countless days were brought back from the verge of ruin with a sincere “thank you” or a gay telling me I looked pretty. Wishing the day were longer so you can finish the conversation with your coworker is a privilege I don’t take lightly. I’ll stop there because I’m out of bourbon.
I left TLA last October, but I’m still devastated to see it go. I’m also devastated to have to pay for movies now. TLA was a lot of things to a lot of people. I don’t think we’ll really feel the full repercussions of its closing until we know exactly what we want to watch on a cranky Wednesday afternoon, and when we have the impulse to reach for the keys to head down the block, we’ll then realize that that absolutely perfect need-to-watch-it-now movie is unavailable because our video store is gone.
TLA is something I’ll miss, think of fondly, and wish I still had, much like my twenties.
Max Brinck (VID 5, 1999-2008; VID 2, 2008-present)
What I take away from 13 years of experience with TLA Entertainment Group is the greatness of the various staff members I’ve worked with. I have so many people to thank, but first…
I had been a customer of all three stores in Philadelphia proper and while I was a customer of the Art Museum location I thought, “If I could get a job at this store, I could do away with those pesky late fees!” And so I applied. Now that wasn’t easy at first because Dan wasn’t scheduling me for an interview. Finally, I came in to the store and asked Mark Henry, “What sort of security clearance do I need to get an interview?” I got one soon after, received the famous movie quiz and was told that I was over-qualified…I knew that! I had just received my MFA from the Academy of Fine Arts.
I used to joke about that saying, “I have received my graduate degree, I can now work at TLA Video! Yaay!”
I have worked for TLA in different capacities…I was an assistant day manager to Dan C., I magically repaired those many scratched up DVDs for years (nobody really liked to do that). I have written at least 80 short reviews of movies for the TLA website, which I was really in to.
But, of course, the most fun was interacting with the “friendly, knowledgeable” staff at the stores.
Firstly, Dan C., who hired me and became one of my best friends too! HE is awesome and a very talented musician.
Vince, who is Superphan and a riot all of the time.
Margaret, who used to bring us bags of ground coffee before she was hired.
Dean, extremely film knowledgeable and super-funny.
Eric B., collector extraordinaire, into music, art, comics, film & all things Japanese.
Gina, an amazing personality, brimming with joie de vivre and an excellent day manager.
Roz, super longtime TLA survivor, always had kind words for staff & customers, but she knew how to dish it too!
Carol, super sweet and sensitive, a fine artist with many tastes and great knowledge of popular culture.
Dave, night manager and so funny, he is ready for stand-up comedy now!
Johnny Rockets, great guy with a big beard and some big ideas.
Jay H. dedicated film & music buff with a deep and wide knowledge of both…and sensitive.
Donna…who has sadly left this world but was a wonderful person and is sorely missed by many…
I know I am missing some great folks, but you get the picture. They are the reason I stayed with this job…I love them and I will miss them.
J.T. Ramsey (VID 1, 2003-2005)
I feel fortunate to have worked with the people who made TLA Video a safe haven for cinephiles here in Philly. I can’t tell you how many customers thanked us for simply being the loyal opposition to Blockbuster. We knew who Wim Wenders was when the big box stores barely carried foreign titles. Sure, it was a low-paying retail job, but at least it had a mission and a clear identity. We were going to offer the sort of movies Blockbuster edited out of existence, whether that was foreign or adult or whatever. TLA was everything Blockbuster wasn’t. Continued…
Andrew Collins (VID 5, 2006-2008)
Few things say Philadelphia to me like TLA Video. Living now in Portland, the store and its people are some of the things I miss the most about Philly. A popular misconception, spread with the help of a TV show, about Portland is that the “spirit of the 90’s is alive” here. Though Portland has its own charms, all that is alive of the 90’s here is empty hipster nostalgia. For the most part, the idea that the freaks and geeks were going to take over the world died with the Clinton administration. But this spirit does remain alive, though it does not live in any particular town; it still exists in a few places, namely used record and book stores and the dying video stores. And you could not hope for a more emblematic representation of this dying lifestyle than TLA Video. First as a customer and then in my all-too-short stint as a clerk I experienced firsthand what it was like to enjoy the shelter of this community of fellow obsessives. We cared (most of us still do) about the trivial minutiae of movies and popular culture and were so unwaveringly uncool (at least I was) about it.
All of this applies doubly to the Spring Garden store. I might be biased, but Spring Garden was the greatest of the TLAs. We were the smallest, made the least money, and were the first Philadelphia-area store to close down. We were the little TLA that could (until we couldn’t). We had a ridiculously diverse group of people both behind and in front of the counter. On any given shift you could find sardonic Decker loudly recommending Crank to a customer for the 100th time working next to cheerful Donna listening to Wham. Or Dan and Max gently bickering like an old married couple. Bald Rob next to my full, luscious head of hair. Joe would come in to rent as soon as the store opened and two hours later he’d be back like clockwork. Evan the lawyer would stop by to chit-chat on his way to court. Customers would laugh with pity as we’d passionately argue whether Broken Arrow was a B, B-, or C+ (it’s a C+, Chris). We’d be the only place open on Christmas so a few regulars would bring us food. We were a very small, tight-knit community. I genuinely believe we were part of that specific neighborhood, more of a Mom ‘n Pop than any of the other stores (we had the sales to prove it, too!).
When the Spring Garden store closed down it was truly a sad day. I remember walking past the empty store front with the “for rent” sign in front and feeling a mix of nostalgia and anger. Even if I worked there for a short time, its closing left a big blank in my life. It’s a bit depressing to think that places like this are on their way out, but I feel lucky I got to be a part of it.
Author: Eric Bresler
Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.