The venerable Santa Monica video rental store announces April closure after a fundraiser with “Nightcrawler” filmmaker Dan Gilroy and star Rene Russo

By Michael Aushenker

Vidiots saw revenue from movie rentals drop 24% in the past five  months alone

Vidiots saw revenue from movie rentals drop 24% in the past five
months alone

And that’s a wrap.

A fixture in Santa Monica for 30 years, eclectic movie rental emporium Vidiots is going out of business, its owners have announced.

April 15 marks Vidiots’ last business day, with a closing event planned for March and hopes to preserve public access to its expansive, 50,000-plus video and DVD collection.

“It is no secret to our customers and the community at large that we have been struggling to stay open for the last few years,” owners Patty Polinger and Cathy Tauber wrote in a statement. “Please be assured that we have done everything possible to continue our mission, but it was not enough to make up for the precipitous drop in rental income — a 24% drop in the last five months alone.”

Still, the announcement came as a shock for many who watched Vidiots appear to survive the transition of home entertainment from VCRs to DVD and Blu-ray players to online streaming services such as Netflix.

“They’ve had an amazing run in the face of the rapid changes in technology and entertainment options,” said longtime customer Michael Peremuter. “My fondness for Vidiots is shared by far more people than can be understood in terms just of the ‘dollar-bottom-line’ of the decline in rental activity.”

Lifelong friends Polinger and Tauber opened Vidiots in 1985 and evolved from a for-profit business when “Back to the Future” ruled the box office to a nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving public access to the cinematic arts.

Polinger and Tauber say they will try to work within the nonprofit framework to preserve public access to the Vidiots collection, including rare titles not currently offered through streaming sites.

Tauber chalks up Vidiots’ steady demise to changes in viewing habits resulting from technological progress.

“Everyone says it’s Netflix and streaming, but suddenly there’s really good TV and the DVR,” she said. “Everyone loves the idea that we’re here and wants us to be here but they just come way, way less. It’s just not enough.”

“We’re kind of worn out trying to tread water,” Polinger said.

Vidiots’ closure comes despite a succession of strategies and fundraisers in recent years, including a Venice panel held last Thursday featuring “Nightcrawler” filmmaker Dan Gilroy and wife/star Rene Russo.

Moderated by Jesse Thorn for his “Bullseye” podcast, the Jan. 22 “Nightcrawler” talk took place inside The Microsoft Lounge, an intimate Abbot Kinney Boulevard space replete with exposed brick walls and rafters and thrift shop-style furniture.

Discussing the critically lauded 2014 indie film starring Jake Gyllenhaal as sociopathic freelance news footage gatherer Lou and Russo as an “if it bleeds, it ledes” news executive with an insatiable appetite for Lou’s content, Gilroy said his directorial debut reflected his personal cynicism and pessimism.

“Maybe the problem is not Lou,” said Gilroy, a self-proclaimed local news junkie. “Maybe it’s the world around him that creates Lou. It’s a cautionary tale.”

“I wish more people had seen the film,” Russo said. “I think Jake should’ve been nominated.”

In the past five years, Tauber and Polinger employed several measures to try to keep Vidiots afloat. In 2010 they created a 35-seat screening room annex designed to host film classes, private parties and spoken word and trivia nights.

Last year, “American Hustle” filmmaker David O. Russell “got really involved and wanted to help out,” Tauber said. “He really encouraged us to donate the store to the foundation and simplified things.”

What inspired Vidiots’ creation was an Esquire article about video stores in other cities that carried offbeat movie titles, said Polinger, who left a job in international distribution for MGM/UA. Locally, “We were shocked at the lack of variety of what we could watch.”

“It’s been a journey,” said Tauber, who had worked for musician Frank Zappa.

They take pride, however, in how “something you’ve done in your life has impacted other people in the community,” Polinger said.

michael@argonautnews.com

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