Welcome to TLA Video Remembrance Week here on Cinedelphia.com. All week long we’ll be preparing for the oncoming demise of the TLA Video stores through a series of posts featuring first-hand memories from the clerks themselves, both past and present. So sit back and let’s lament the fall of this Philadelphia-based institution together.
TLA location lingo guide: VID 1 = South Street, VID 2 = Locust Street, VID 3 = Chestnut Hill, VID 4 = Bryn Mawr, VID 5 = Spring Garden Street, VID 6 = New Jersey, VID 7 = NYC
Price Campbell (VID 3, 2006; VID 5, 2006-2007)
I only caught one kid in TLA’s notable porn room during my year and a half working at the store. A customer came up to me when I was behind the counter and tipped me off. I walked in thinking I would have to tell off some dimwit boy ogling the merchandise, but instead found a pig-tailed, pale-faced little girl. She was in the gay section (which I managed for a few months, a 50 cent raise), her face about level with the section labeled “THUG PORN”. Google it.
Anyway, I froze, and she turned around wearing an expression of deep trauma. I was speechless and wasn’t sure what to do, but she quickly walked out once she saw me, almost as if I was freeing her. I went back to the register in silence and when I saw the guy who told me about the situation the only words we exchanged were “yeah.” Never saw the girl before, and never saw her afterwards. I still don’t really know what to make of the whole situation, but I do know that it really wasn’t that weird when compared to the other TLA legends I’ve heard. That’s why TLA ruled: it was routinely strange and entertaining.
I lived a few blocks away from a TLA from about 11 years of age to halfway though high school. I fell in love with film by picking whatever looked cool from TLA’s eclectic selection. When I worked there I got a bona fide education in movie history, opening myself up to whatever sort of genre or time period I felt like getting into. I found out about “acid westerns”, pre-60’s French stuff, and a sincere, thoughtful movie about a woman who has an affair with a chimp. This might be useless knowledge, but it’s damn good useless knowledge.
Plus it was fun to work at TLA. Everyone there was nice (even to customers sometimes) and great to hang out with. It was an easy place to get embroiled in a debate about dumb movies, everyone seemed to have a strong opinion about Crash, but also a great spot to learn about all the cool things going on in Philly. The customers were just as fun, as long as they weren’t complaining about the diminishing VHS selection or asking for the movie with “that guy with the hat, who, like, robs a bank.”
But TLA’s days are numbered and I’m sad to see it go. It was the best video store out there. Anyone who was interested in good movies, or movies that were so bad they were good, would arrive at a TLA eventually. I thank TLA for providing a great service while it was around and for letting me work there.
Finally, big shout out to Max [Brinck, VID 5 + VID 2] for letting me rent gratis on his account after I left. Bigger shout out to Dan for not firing me when I worked for him. I hope that whatever you guys do next is as sweet a gig as TLA.
Don Malvasi (VID 2, 2001-2003)
I was store manager of the Locust Street TLA during the great blizzard of 2003. Center City was virtually shut down for two days. Not us. We were the only business open for blocks around and we did record business as our eclectic neighborhood converged for a movie and a chat. What I’ll remember about TLA is the wonderful camaraderie that existed between our customer base and our highly savvy staff of movie geeks who worked at TLA largely out of their passion for film. I inherited an incredibly knowledgeable staff who were eager to convey their enthusiasm and expertise. During my two years at the store’s helm, my most important job was to continue that tradition in my hiring because it was essential to extend our clients personal shopping experience at a time when tempting alternatives like Netflix began to emerge. The 15th Street TLA was the sales hub of the company’s annual film festivals and I eagerly awaited the buzz of each year’s new slate of movies that Ray [Murray, TLA President] would announce. I managed record stores for more than 20 years before TLA so I’m no stranger to the nostalgic feeling of seeing people-friendly institutions go down in flames.
Adrian Hickman (VID 1, 2000-2005; VID 3, 2005-2007; GM 2007-2009)
The TLA stores were an amazing part of Philly’s film scene, mainly because of the stores themselves. So many people moved on to the entertainment business, so many others moved into other businesses, but none ever lost the TLA staff connection.
My nine years there were not exciting because of the film business, they were exciting because of the ability to share film with co-workers and customers. Rarely do you get a chance to work in a place that matches your love so much. In addition, rarely do you work in a place where what you think you know is so easily added to by the people around you.
Probably my first day at TLA was my most memorable because I surprised the staff and they surprised me. One even remarked that I was nothing like they expected.
I entered TLA after 17 years with other video retailers. However, this was the first time that I felt like I was being given an assignment to simply babysit a store that may not be around for long. What I discovered was a great staff that simply wanted to succeed, but had not had someone there to believe in them. I believed in myself and found that it was easy to believe in them as well, because they cared. That store lasted for nine more years.
In the process, my time in the stores was great because I was able to express my abilities and ideas to make the stores stronger and better. I could not accept sitting still, which probably was my eventual downfall there.
However, when I was with the staff of each store, there was no sitting still, there were always ideas and concepts to move forward. These people should have been and should always be listened to. They know, they care, and they will keep you growing and successful.
TLA is a great memory because of each stores’ staff that I had the pleasure to work alongside of.
Magaret Barton-Fumo (VID 5, 2000-2006)
I started working at Vid 5 at the tender age of 18. I hated it sometimes like I hate all jobs, but I loved it too and continued to work there as long as I lived in Philadelphia, for another five or six years. I have fond memories of snapping VHS tapes in maroon covers, digging them out of the cruddy drop box and getting pissed at customers for not rewinding. I remember a whole slew of crazy customers, but mainly I remember all of the characters on our side of the counter, and the great friends I made working there. We had a motley crew at Vid 5: there was Sam, the Star Wars fanboy who liked to knit during his shift; Frank X, local star of stage and screen; Jen, who always worked with a gun strapped under her shirt and would read ammunition magazines behind the counter; Max, the minimalist, and, of course, Dean the Marine, to name just a few. Everyone who worked at TLA was obsessed with movies. We would watch movies on our breaks in the back room, go see movies at the theater on our days off and watch movies together at each other’s apartments after closing the store at night. I remember watching Dean’s laserdisc copy of Manitou late one night at the Astrocade, and Eric driving up to New York to rent a copy of Black Devil Doll from Hell at Kim’s Video. I remember crying and nearly pissing my pants from laughing so hard on several occasions, and dancing around to evangelical teen pop music all the time. I remember the huge roaches that would crawl out of the toilet whenever it rained really hard, and the cave-like break room where we could smoke and the walls were covered with weird collages of advertisements and porno posters with the Olson Twins’ and Donald Trump’s heads pasted on the bodies. All of the TLA’s embodied a type of spirit that is now sadly becoming extinct. It’s something that I’ve missed ever since I stopped working at Vid 5 years ago. Viva la video!!
Marc Walkow (VID 1-7, 1993-1997)
I was there from 1993 to 1997, I think. Hard to remember. I worked at VID 4 as regular counter staff, then night manager, and then moved to the main office and VID 2 as General Manager and interim manager for the store, if I remember correctly. I proofread the first professionally-published TLA catalog, and wrote a ton of reviews for it and for Rewind magazine. I also helped build the VID 6 (New Jersey) and VID 7 (NYC) stores, neither of which exist any more. I also worked counter occasionally at VID 1 (South St), VID 3 (Chestnut Hill), VID 5 (Spring Garden), VID 6 and VID 7. I did everything!
The most memorable experiences were probably the naughty things! We were all in our 20s and having fun – after-hour parties at VID 4, some memorable experiences setting off fireworks in the parking lot. All the straight guys at the counter there had gay customers who doted on us – odd experience. [They] would only want us to wait on them, bring us gifts, stuff like that. Doing the shuttle runs around the five stores in the Philly area was also fun, seeing all the customers and staff, spending most of the week outside of the office.
Mark Henry (VID 2 1990-1991; VID 1, 1991-1995; VID 5, 1995-1999)
I started working at TLA part time while still working at Temple University’s Post Production Room. After I graduated, I started working there full time. Ann Yarabinee, my manager on South Street at that time, would allow me some time off for the occasional foray working as PA or Grip on a film, music video or commercial. But for the most part I settled into working at TLA and it became my own form of Graduate Film School. I watched movies…a lot of them. A number of different types of movies, as only TLA could provide. I studied them, broke the structures down as best I could and tried to nurture and hone my screenwriting. Writing was the thing you could do no matter the lack of funds, equipment or crew. While that’s changed to a slightly lesser degree these days with the creation of digital cinema, it still is.
I eventually moved to Los Angeles where I continue to try and hone my screen and television writing with varying degrees of success. I’ve had ups and downs. Still having them. Yeesh. I have friends out here from Central High School, friends from Temple University, and friends from TLA including former customers no less!
But as this sad occasion of the end of TLA Video’s brick and mortar retail stores dawns upon us, the first episode I wrote for Marvel Animation’s IRON MAN ARMORED ADVENTURES aired last night 8/17/11 on Nicktoons. That opportunity just happens to have a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-style TLA connection.
TLA was the best graduate film school a person could get paid to go to.
Miguel Gomez (VID 4, 1999-present)
I’m approaching 13 years at the Bryn Mawr TLA. Philly became my home when I left Alexandria, VA for college. When I got my driver’s license I graduated from renting at the three Blockbusters near my house back home (they had different horror selections at the three) to the somewhat further away Power Video. I started going there when I couldn’t find Living in Oblivion at BB. I moved on from Power shortly after they made me get The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover out of their erotica section. Clerk, please. This is when I moved on to the glorious, and may it rest in peace, Video Vault. They were incredible, their slogan was “Guaranteed worst movies in town”, and I’ve really only recently realized to what degree that store shaped my tastes. They had the hoitiest of the toitiest and the sleaziest of the sleaze. I remember my dad’s glare as we made our way to the attic of the town house that was home to the vault. Each room was dedicated to a different genre. If you made it to the top you found the cult room, which is where I first came upon sections devoted to Russ Meyer and Women-in-Prison. On top of the giant boobs, and boobs behind bars, there was one title facing out which featured a man holding a decaying body. It was titled Corpse Fucking Art and when my pops saw it he almost disallowed me from using his credit card to open my account. I loved the Vault, but I moved to Haverford for college and had to find a new place. I walked to the TLA my first day in PA and was pleased that I could walk to a great store. TLA wasn’t as trashy as I liked (I asked if they stocked Slugs, Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness [1986; horror movie, not Madonna] or Blood Lake, and they did not), but they did have a Russ Meyer section, so I plunked down my money for a 20 rental punch card. I rented Ice Cream Man that day, and always found exciting stuff to rent. I often had to sprint the mile from school to try and return things before close since there was no drop box in those days and I had no car. January of my sophomore year (1999) I applied for a job, and have been working there since. I remember using IMDb to look up which Coen brother used to get the directing credit so I could fill in the fave director section of the application as accurately as possible (it’s Joel, for the curious). I also remember renting Brother’s Keeper after my interview…what a bizarre choice I made for my impress-the-clerks-so-they’ll-hire-me rental. It worked (I got hired, I don’t know if I impressed the clerk), and I have pretty much been living the dream of working at a video store since. I always wanted to work at a video store, and frankly, I always want to work in a video store. I freakin’ love it. Now I pick what the store stocks, and I get to do my darndest to get folks to rent awesome stuff. I feel quite proud of the amount of times House (1977 Japanese flick), Taxidermia, Sweet Movie, 800 Bullets and Kikujiro get seen due to my talking them up to folks. I never did get us Blood Lake or Truth or Dare: A Critical Madness, but we do now stock Slugs at least.
Lovely times at TLA have included working with my wife for the past 11 years (we met at school, not TLA. I taught a “Bad Horror and You” class which she took cuz she was writing her thesis on Night of the Living Dead, though NotLD is absolutely not bad horror in case you’re getting the wrong idea), convincing my best friend from high school to move up to PA and work at the store when I found out someone was quitting, working until the sun came up to integrate the DVDs with the VHS on the display floor, putting a note that says “3 out of 4 TLA managers agree: You should rent this!” on The Films of Charles & Ray Eames, and having a dude that worked on the special effects for Frankenhooker autograph the back of the VHS box (the one that had a button which, when pressed, would ask “Wanna date?”…the guy signed it to “TLC Video”, by the way). The sucky times include finding a batch of baby mice behind a hole in the wall in the porn room (for reals), finding a half eaten chicken drumstick in a VHS display box out on the rental floor, and seeing a grown man nearly cry because his Monster’s Ball reserve had been messed up.
Being at the last store still standing I find it tough to write the obituary just yet, so I’ll leave the anecdotes at that. Any more and I’ll feel like we are the ones closing up, and I want to enjoy the final leg of living the dream. VID 7 (NY), VID 5 (Spring Garden), VID 1 (South Street), VID 3 (Chestnut Hill) and VID 2 (Rittenhouse Square) crews, I’m pouring some on the floor for y’all (and for the Video Vault too). I guess I’ll have to do the pouring for VID 4 (Bryn Mawr) when the time comes.
E-mail me if you are a former or current TLA Video employee and would like to share your story. Additional memories will be posted later this week.
Tomorrow we’ll have the first of a two part interview with 19 year TLA Video employee and current Locust Street manager Dan Creskoff.
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.