Part two of my chat with Dan Creskoff, the final manager of TLA Video’s Locust Street location. Part one is available here.
CINEDELPHIA: What were some of your pet peeves as a video store manager?
DAN CRESKOFF: People who’d argue a legitimate $2 late fee until their teeth fall out.
C: I remember you being rather lenient when it came to late fees.
DC: I am. Everyone gets one break and I’ll listen to a sob story if you have it. But there are customers that constantly have sob stories and constantly don’t want to pay their late fees. So if you want a break, don’t come up to me with an attitude.
C: I remember one of my favorite customer complaints, it was after you’d gone to Locust Street. A young woman who had a movie out for three months was charged retail price for it plus a week’s worth of late fees. And soon after she was charged she came in with the movie and loudly complained “How could you charge me? I was studying for the bar exam! I’m going to be a lawyer!”
DC: That’s great.
C: My biggest personal pet peeve was when a customer would complain about the music I was playing.
DC: That’s annoying. Going back to the South Street store, one time I was playing The Pogues and a customer came up and was like “What is this? This is terrible, I can’t even listen to this.” And then the next customer came up and said “What is this? This is incredible.” You’re never gonna please everybody. It’s one thing if they don’t like the music and they mention it to somebody and it’s another thing when they just start yelling “This is the worst music I’ve ever heard!” You’ve gotta think that somebody here likes it so why insult the person? It’s like sending food back.
Another pet peeve: cell phones at the counter. And not only that, but when you’re not already on the cell phone and you pick it up and start dialing it while I’m waiting on you. Don’t treat the clerk like they’re a peon, it’s ridiculous.
Stealing porn boxes is another one, that’s huge at Locust Street.
C: I forgot all about that phenomenon.
DC: It’s huge at the Locust Street store. We’ve had up to 70 go at a time.
C: So people just go into the adult room and hide the empty boxes in their coats or bags?
DC: Sometimes they’ll take the pictures out, sometimes the whole box. I’ve caught a couple people.
C: Is it hard to confront customers like that?
DC: No, because the few that I’ve caught were completely crazy homeless people, one guy was this short of wearing a tutu. We’ve had thieves over the years and you eventually realize that they just want to get out of there so if you confront them they’ll give everything back just so they can get out.
Funny story, when I worked at the South Street store we had a guy who grabbed three porn tapes from our sales section and tried to sneak them out. The security buzzer started beeping and I looked at him, he looked at me, and he took off. I jumped over the counter and ran after him down the street and he stopped halfway down so I stopped too. I didn’t know what to do. He takes off again and as he gets to the end of the street a police car was going by. By the time they got out of the car he came back and gave me the tapes and continued to walk back in the direction of the store. The police asked if I wanted to do anything, but I got the movies back so I didn’t care. I started walking back to the store and a citizen, just some guy who saw me chasing the thief, has the dude with a gun to him and he was like “What do you wanna do with him?” In retrospect I should have just scared the hell out of the guy and told the citizen to shoot him. Claire [Brown-Kohler] came in and gave me a $50 bonus and said never, ever do that again.
C: Can you elaborate upon the sense of community that exists amongst the TLA employees?
DC: It definitely exists for a large portion of the people that work there. It’s something that also happened at Temple Cinematheque where we had this other relationship besides working there, but most places that I’ve worked at haven’t had this. People go to movies together, people go out to bars together. In the old days people used to drink during work and then continue after work. Not to mention any names, Dean. And there are people who have become best friends from working at TLA. It’s just amazing how close everyone becomes. When anyone leaves we tend to have going away parties…I think it says a lot about the kind of job it is and the kind of people that work there.
C: One of the things that you personally missed out on were the more…intimate relationships that often occurred between both employees and customers.
DC: Let me say this, I went out with Cher [Bryant, VID 2; General Manager] for five years and I got her the job there. Have I had any other relationships within TLA? After Cher, I started going out with my ex-wife, so besides Cher I haven’t done a Bresler. There’s been lots of that though. There was one person who went out with four different employees, I think? It got a little hairy towards the end there, especially when the girl broke up with him and they had a shift together the next day and he punched a hole in the wall. There’s been a lot of people going out with each other.
C: Again, a testament to the family dynamic.
DC: It’s especially weird when a clerk asks out a customer on the phone since it’s obvious where they got the number from.
There are a lot of customers who have just become part of the family, like cousins. And a lot of customers who have joined the family, like Max [Brinck, VID 5, VID 2]. He used to come in wearing this two-tone green coat that looked like it was wet on the bottom like he’d just come out of a lake or something. And one day Dana [Adler, VID 5] was like, “That guy wants a job here, that guy with the coat.” He was a customer for a while before he started working. I tend to hire customers who want to work here because they obviously love movies and are educated in film.
Customers always ask us trivia questions or recommendations. “What Russian films can you recommend?” We could stand there and be dumb and not know like most video stores, but the idea of the TLA stores is that we’re prepared to send them in the right direction. There are a lot of Temple film professors and Penn professors who send their students to us because of that.
C: That reminds me of another annoyance…
DC: Teachers, right?
C: Doing the work for teachers. Teachers who would come in with a blank syllabus and ask for films that would suit their classes. I remember helping out a Temple grad student for months, recommending things like unique holiday films and such. She eventually revealed in passing that she’d been being paid to deliver these lists of films that I provided her and that was the last time I spoke to her.
DC: Yeah, do your own work, we’re doing ours.
DC: It’s a testament to TLA that we’re the last rental store in Center City. Spruce Street Video is the only other one and they’ve moved to a tiny spot underground. You can’t stand up to the fact that people get them through the mail and online. You don’t have to leave the house and that’s hard to compete with.
C: Ten years ago when the internet and things like Netflix exploded, did you see the stores lasting even this long?
DC: I did, but most people didn’t. When I was at Spring Garden and Netflix started up, people would say “What have you got? A year, two years left?” And I always said that we have ten years.
What we’re getting now is remorse for the brick and mortar store. We’re hearing our eulogy every three minutes. People aren’t happy that they don’t have a place they can go to where they can talk to real people and touch real things and get to know the tastes of the employees and then have us recommend things. There’s a relationship there that they can’t have online. When Netflix recommends a movie it’s based on an algorithm, it’s not based on real tastes.
C: Can you assign a number to the eulogizers that can relate to the greater picture? Is it a number that justifies the closing?
DC: The store is closing because we don’t make enough money to keep up with the very high realty area. Part of that is the subscription plans. TLA, and I understand why, but TLA decided they would have subscription plans where customers don’t get late fees, you can rent as much as you want, you just pay a monthly fee.
C: The Netflix model.
DC: The Netflix model. And it works for Netflix because they send a movie out through the mail and you send it back to them and you probably took a week before you watched it so at tops you’re getting four movies a month. It justifies it. It doesn’t work at a store that you can walk into as many times a day as you want. We would rent 40 films a month to a customer for a nominal fee. So personally I think it was a bad idea to try to compete with that model. We probably wouldn’t be closing if we didn’t do so. You can’t blame people for latching onto this idea and seeing what a good deal it was, but because of that we started making less and less and less money. So I do think there are a lot of people that do want to come into a store everyday, that do want to support the local guy, that don’t want to watch things streaming or downloading, but with that model we just can’t make enough money.
C: So you think that a video store could survive today under the right conditions?
DC: I do. Enough people want human interaction. They want a place to go just to leave their house. I think it can be done, if the price is right. I’m talking about where it’s less than OnDemand, people will come out and go to the local video store near their house. It can’t be in a place where rent is astronomical.
C: What will you miss most about TLA?
DC: You’re going to make me cry. I’ll miss my fellow employees and a good portion of customers. Free rentals, man, I’m going to miss free rentals. I’m sure there’s a lot of customers I’m not going to miss. There’s people that come in every other day or once every week that you build a relationship with and suddenly they’re gone, so there’s that.
C: What will you miss the least?
DC: The mold. We’ve had so many floods at this store. The cockroaches. There’s some stress involved, I’ve been doing it a long time, every time I went on vacation something catastrophic would happen. A flood would destroy half our video boxes or all of our Blu-rays would get stolen. The other half of the customers who are really hard to deal with or just miserable or mean people, I’m not going to miss them at all.
C: Will you say hi to those people in public?
DC: Some. Others, nope.
C: What are your future plans?
DC: Sort of up in the air. I’ll be joining the ranks of the unemployed. I have some ideas in the works, we’ll see if they pan out or not. I’d love to open up my own business. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to having a couple weeks to a month off. I’ve been working straight through since I was 17, even in college, so I’m ready.
C: What’s left of TLA after the stores?
DC: Bryn Mawr for now. It’s no secret now that Ray [Murray, TLA president] has said it in the Inquirer that Bryn Mawr is only here until the lease runs out. So they’re still here for now, but not for long. Online sales. Right now they’re streaming adult films and I think they’re going to want to stream more regular, mainstream films so that’s the future. I guess the film fest as well. QFest at least.
I’d like to say that TLA as a company have gotten more strict over the years, they’ve gotten tighter over the years…
C: As a result of the company heads getting older?
DC: Partially, yes. Realizing it’s their livelihood. But when times were good they were the first ones to share. When they were doing really well, we would get great bonuses and decent raises, but when times were tight they weren’t as forthcoming. But having seen both sides of that, even with all of my gripes over the years, it was a good company to work for.
Best of luck, Dan!
And did you know…
Dan has a long history in the Philadelphia music scene having been a member of many bands including Rocknoceros, Cactus Love, Double Penetration, the Illegitimate Sons of Uncle Daddy, and the Sinners. He is currently a solo artist, watch him play with iMovie below.
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.