Let’s be thankful Vidiots didn’t go the way of our favorite book and record stores

Vidiots

By Tony Peyser

Oct. 6, 1967, marks a major event in the tumultuous decade that was the 1960s.This one didn’t involve an assassination, a war or riots. To be fair, its impact was only here in Southern California — mostly Santa Monica’s Ocean Park neighborhood, to be specific. This was the day that Pacific Ocean Park closed.

Figuring out the world back then was hard enough for most Baby Boomer adolescents, and this was especially dumbfounding for yours truly: How could this incredibly enjoyable place (a Disneyland on the Westside, for chrissake!) go belly-up?

Obviously, it wasn’t fair. Some naïve pals and I even wondered how it was legal. The only upside would be that the ruins of the amusement park eventually became ground zero for the Z-boys to pioneer the soon-to-be burgeoning skateboard culture. Apart from losing a destination we begged our parents to take us to, for kids in 1967 the end of Pacific Ocean Park — known to one and all as POP — also marked a loss of innocence and the beginning awareness that things don’t last.

This reality has become all the more conspicuous in the past 20-or-so years, as fallout from the Internet era has reverberated throughout our culture. The holy trinity of record, book and video stores has been hit with particularly destructive results. The music business, like a fading ingénue, is a shell of its former self, with downloads of songs replacing the buying of actual records. The selling of books in stores has been strangled by the rise of Amazon and eBooks. The ubiquity of Netflix has led to the decline of once prospering video retailers.

As a result of all of these ch-ch-ch-changes, we collectively and subconsciously accept demise as a way of life. Once seemingly indestructible names like Virgin Records, Tower Records, Borders Books, Dutton’s and Blockbuster disappear like things you inevitably lose in the process of moving. Despite our being surrounded by show business itself and the Tinseltown state of mind, there is a distinct shortage of real-life Hollywood endings.

A small digression, but bear with me: This was my favorite bit from the storied career of Monty Python. A guy in some ancient era is about to be hanged when heads turn to a man in the distance shouting, “A message from the Governor!” The condemned man’s face brightens. This bedraggled messenger heads toward the crowd of people gathered to watch the man be put to death. The messenger clearly has been running for some time. When he finally arrives, he’s so out of breath he can’t talk. When he eventually catches his breath, he slowly unrolls a scroll and announces, “Proceed with the execution!”

This clip is surely found somewhere in the vast inventory of Vidiots, the beloved 30-year-old video rental store in Santa Monica that has been much in the news lately. Long story short: its closing was announced. And then it didn’t close.

Unlike that unlucky chap in that Monty Python routine, Vidiots was saved by the largesse of film producer Megan Ellison and a local customer, Leonard M. Lipman M.D. Each deserves a heartfelt thank-you note from SoCal movie lovers. Since people don’t write those kinds of notes much anymore, a thank-you email or tweet will have to suffice. But bear in mind that if you use any emoticons, it’s letting the terrorists win.

I want to be sure that Vidiots’ reprieve is properly acknowledged, because this is not how these kinds of stories tend to end. There’s usually a Facebook page put up and some angry letters written, but five will get you ten that nothing changes except the business at that particular location. Then the store’s iconic sign shows up on eBay. Given the rarity of a store like this beating the odds, let’s show some gratitude for Vidiots sticking around.

In a 2011 piece in The New York Times, video store owners from across the country talked about the trials and tribulations of keeping such businesses going in the 21st century. It concluded with Vidiots co-founder Patti Pollinger sighing and saying, “Now if we could just be the last one standing.”

Take a bow, Patti. You and your Vidiots partner, Cathy Tauber, have managed to do just that.

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