Vidiots will close on April 15.

The movie rental store has provided entertainment options since 1985 and over it’s 30-year history, the business became more than just a video store. It became part of Santa Monica’s social fabric, contributing to countless family movie nights, providing course material to thousands of SMC students and hosting a vibrant space for discussion of the arts.

However, beloved does not mean profitable and its founders said business has dropped far below sustainable levels.

“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,” they said 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 percent drop in the last five months alone. Our Board is currently reviewing possible 501c3 organizations that would allow public access to our collection of over 50,000 titles, many rare and unavailable online.”

Patty Polinger, who founded Vidiots with her business partner Cathy Tauber, said they were working on plans to keep the business afloat based on a steady decline in rental figures but the abrupt drop was too much, too fast.

“We were seeing small drops and we thought we could figure out a way out in the time we had with the way it was dropping,” she said. “The summer is always a slow time for us and there were a lot of things that were aligning to be bad for business. We hoped it would come back but it didn’t and I don’t know why it dropped all of a sudden.”

The video rental business has been under assault for years. The rise of automated rental boxes, the arrival of Netflix into the market and the growing popularity of streaming or on-demand options have all cut into the traditional rental business.

Polinger said she had hoped Vidiots would survive thanks to its diversification. The store converted to a non-profit foundation and has developed revenue streams that were distinct from its rental business. However, the alternate income couldn’t offset such a dramatic and unforeseen drop in customers.

“The studios themselves are also going through some big challenges and changes,” she said. “Movie attendance is down and I have younger kids, I know how they watch film and it’s not, most of the time, going to the theater.”

Salvador Carrasco, a film director and head of Santa Monica College’s Film Production program, said Vidiots provided an option for students regardless of their personal resources. “SMC is a community college, and not everyone has the luxury of having cable, Netflix, Hulu, etc., so that is indeed part of the problem … lack of virtually universal access, which incidentally is what SMC is all about. And I say this because Vidiots offered great, affordable prices for our students.”

Polinger said her hope is to find a way to preserve local access to their entire collection.

“We’re open to all ideas,” she said. “To sustain us in the form that we are is a big amount of money. I don’t know if anyone wants to take that on or if that’s sustainable, but we’re open to ideas and suggestions. We’ve been thinking about this for a very long time but haven’t had any brilliant ideas about how to make it sustainable.”

Polinger said she wanted to thank everyone involved in the Vidiots community, including the staff that has helped keep the doors open for decades.

Carrasco said students have benefited from Vidiot’s extensive collection but also from interacting with the staff.

“The thing about Vidiots is that not only could one find there just about any film imaginable, but also that the people who worked there, from the owners to the last clerk, were invariably friendly and knowledgeable, giving the place a lovely feel of true Santa Monica community,” he said. “People went there to chat and hang out as much as to find movies. On a personal level, my wife Andrea and I raised our three children on a diet of Vidiots rentals, from obscure English comedy shows to DVDs that according to the Internet were impossible to find. Vidiots always managed to have them available, reserve them for you, or even go find them god-knows-where … and they always delivered.”

He said losing the personal interaction the store provided would hurt the community at large.

“As to the level of human interaction, it will be lost. There is no replacement for that. It’s akin to when we lose community bookstores and buy from Amazon. It’s practical, of course, but the sense of community is lost: meeting people, having a coffee, exchanging ideas, getting excited by an unexpected twist of fate, etc,” he said. “I often witnessed at Vidiots how people could have a 20-minute conversation while standing in front of the interminable Fassbinder section. Another thing that was very gratifying was seeing all those posters and DVD covers signed by the filmmakers. They even had a poster of my film ‘The Other Conquest’ there for a while, which made my students feel very proud, like they too were a part of this community of filmmakers by extension. Vidiots provided a sort of second home for true film lovers, and that cannot be replaced.”

He said the closure is an example of society losing places for shared experiences and that much of modern life has become about individual experiences.

“We are losing the sense of the collective and communal, the things that bind us, rather than separate us, and give us common ground and make us reassess our humanity,” he said. “Believe it or not, the demise of community bookstores and video stores – our beloved Santa Monica Vidiots in particular – is a symptomatic sign of the loss of our identity as a community, and that is an irreversible loss with no gain in sight.”

According to the store’s closing information, rentals will continue through March 31. Any unused vouchers can be used towards purchases at that point. Vidiots is located at 302 Pico Blvd. and can be reached at vidiotsfoundation@gmail.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.