If Bill Sanford finds himself spitting into the wind of historical inevitability, he doesn’t seem particularly fazed. Given such a ferocious appearance — long red hair, long red beard, big booming voice, and multiple tattoos crawling all over his imposing body— Sanford is the sort of guy who typically does the fazing.
Two months ago, Sanford mad-dogged the past, present, and future all at the same time by buying the last video store standing on the South Coast: The Video Shop, which is located at the intersection of De la Vina and Mission streets. He’s worked there for seven years and scraped up every nickel and dime he could muster to make the deal happen. It wasn’t easy. All the while, Sanford understood the video-rental industry had long gone the way of the dodo bird.
But Sanford genuinely loves movies. He believes they’re healing, and he’d like to return the favor. “The video store is a dying expression of American culture,” he said. “If I can breathe a few years more of life into it, I’m happy to do so.”
When The Video Shop first opened for business, Sanford was an 11-year-old kid growing up in the same Baltimore neighborhood as Divine, the tragic transvestite who achieved fame by starring in John Waters’s low-rent, kitsch-camp extravaganzas. Sanford’s father was a deputy sheriff, and his mom took him to horror movies. Around 1993, Sanford headed west to San Francisco, and four years later he wound up in Santa Barbara, working construction until he slipped two discs. Ten years later, he began working at The Video Shop, helping and hanging with original owner Michael Hansen.
Under Hansen’s direction, The Video Shop evolved into the quintessential independent video shop, replete with life-size replicas of space aliens, posters from movies considered “dirty” back in the ’70s, and a celebrity photograph of Henry Kissinger (sporting a counterfeit autograph) back when Kissinger still had bone structure. Today, The Video Shop boasts nearly 20,000 titles — far more, Sanford insists, than any of the online video services, such as Netflix. Every Tuesday, 25 new titles still arrive by mail, which Sanford — as encyclopedic in his knowledge as he is enthusiastic about the art form — is happy to curate.
He’s a sucker for British costume epics and period pieces — anything, he says, with “character and story” — but he also loves comic-book takeoffs and documentaries about music, about which he’s especially passionate. Sanford says business has been good and that his customers come from all walks of life. He also provides a new service translating old VHS tapes into DVDs.
Since taking over, Sanford has spruced up the shop to the point it no longer smells like every other video shop. That’s in part because he’s taken to burning incense there. But mostly it’s because there simply are no other video shops left.
The Video Shop is located at 128 West Mission Street. Call (805) 569-2868.