The line at Video Schmideo was nearly a dozen customers deep late Tuesday morning with another handful of movie buffs eagerly browsing the aisles of the downtown video store. Oddly reminiscent of the glory days when customers would gather in frothing droves for the videocassette releases of Star Wars and E.T., this week’s hustle and bustle was a markedly different affair. After 22 years of providing Santa Barbara’s movie-loving masses with everything from blockbusters and foreign films to forgotten classics and hard-to-find documentaries, the quirky storefront on the parking-lot side of Victoria Court is selling off its nationally renowned inventory in preparation for a Christmastime close date.
While simultaneously ringing up a customer with a stack of more than 40 DVDs and helping another man find an animated version of The Hobbit, Schmideo’s owner Jason Uliasz explained the chaos. “I was going to keep renting for another couple weeks but if everyone keeps buying them like this we won’t be able to,” he said, before adding with a busy smile, “and I can’t say that will bother me at all.”
Pushed to the brink of extinction by a perfect storm of crippling high rent, a free-falling economy, and a customer base that increasingly gets its movie fix online with home delivery from low-cost and no-late-fee companies la Netflix, Video Schmideo’s bottom line “had been bad for a long time,” according to Uliasz. But the store’s lease with SIMA Corporation is coming up at the end of the year, so the end of December seemed the right time to close.
“People like the place, but unfortunately, just not that many of them use it anymore,” lamented Uliasz, who’s worked at the shop since he was 15 when it was located at La Plazuela and is now a 37-year-old father of three. “It is just the state of the industry.”
And that state is ruled by the Internet. For example, $2.50 a day gets you the latest Indiana Jones flick at Video Schmideo, but online at Netflix, you can rent as many movies a month as you want for $16.99 without ever having to travel any further than your mailbox. That formula spells trouble for all video rental shops. Earlier this year, the Mesa’s Video Visions sold off its stock and shut its doors, while Isla Vista’s Emerald Video is slated to do the same before the year is over. “The only way you could make [a place like this] work nowadays is if you didn’t have to pay rent and you didn’t have to support a family,” explained Uliasz, who also noted that the store is owed about $30,000 in late fees.
At its pinnacle, Video Schmideo offered up more than 12,000 VHS and DVD titles, numbers that put it pretty high in the ranking against rental shops across the country. (The current count is about half that amount, said Uliasz.) But its true appeal was the personality of the store, which only half-jokingly billed itself as being the “intelligent choice.” Complete with a six-foot-tall faux Oscar statue by the register and walls decorated with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Simpsons, Captain Hook, the Three Stooges, and other “iconic” movie characters alongside old movie posters for such classics as Casablanca and King Kong, the store is an ode to all things film. While movie titles are categorized in the typical groups like New Releases, Comedy, and Horror, Uliasz and crew are not afraid to bend the rules a bit. With a touch of film intelligence and sarcasm you’d be hard-pressed find in a Blockbuster or at Netflix, the current Holiday Movie section at Schmideo includes Die Hard, The Gremlins, and Santa’s Slay sitting right next to A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life.
“This is the kind of place where you can cruise around and discover things,” explained Uliasz. Unfortunately for Santa Barbara, those days of discovery are now numbered.