So last year I told you about six video stores that were somehow still in business. Me and Jay went all over Jersey and Pennsylvania to find them, and I was convinced that we’d hit every last one within reasonable driving distance.
Fortunately, I was wrong!
Welcome to California Video, star of a random strip mall located in New Holland, Pennsylvania.
We had to travel for hours to find this place. For a moment there, I wasn’t sure that we ever would. New Holland is an interesting town, where pockets of exurbia are bookended by complete and total farm country. Not ten miles from California Video, the only signs of life came from horses and tumbleweeds.
Take a close look at that second photo, and you’ll notice the outline of a long-gone sign burnt into the front of the building. Doesn’t its shape seem… familiar?
Yes indeed, California Video isn’t just a still-running video store, but one that operates out of the shell of a dead Blockbuster!
Holy shit, guys. The old Blockbuster layout was still very much in play. Same shelves, same carpeting, same everything! The walls were different colors, but this was as close as I’d come to walking in a real Blockbuster in years.
Interesting note: One of the owners of California Video ran another chain of video stores way back when, which got bought out by Blockbuster in 1996. In a poetic turn, he and his partners later bought back one of his old locations from Blockbuster — meaning this one!
In summary: This was a mom-and-pop video store that got turned into a Blockbuster, and then later got turned into a mom-and-pop video store that still looked like a Blockbuster. I’M DYING. THAT IS GREAT.
We were there for about an hour, joining a steady stream of customers. My impression is that the owners do pretty well for themselves, and it certainly shows: The store was super clean and organized, without a trace of dust or disrepair.
Everything was technically for sale, but California Video still operates mostly as a rental spot. I can see the angle, too. I’m sure the locals love it, but this is also an area where out-of-towners rent “rustic” houses for quick vacations. If I did that, there’s no way I wouldn’t double-down on the charming archaism by going to the video store to rent movies.
(For those wondering, California Video is a DVD-and-Blu kinda place. They did have VHS tapes, but those were treated more as off-to-the-side novelties.)
California Video was awesome in its own right, but the Blockbuster connection just put such a tremendous cherry on top.
They even had a pair of giant gumball machines that looked suspiciously similar to the ones Blockbuster made famous. I don’t know if these were true originals with modified branding, but I can’t imagine too many other gumball machines shooting gum down 24” swirly slides.
Then there was the carpet. That HAD to be Official Blockbuster Carpet. The one with the same pattern as the sweater you wore in your third grade class photo.
I loved the extracurricular touches, like how they had lists of suggested movies all over the shelves. The only thing better than watching Jaws on a video store’s suggestion is watching Jaws at a drive-in.
I was also way into their display of old comics and magazines. Most were from the early ‘90s, when comics were so hot that even mom-and-pop video stores tried to get in on the action. Since I’m not really doing the VHS collecting bit anymore, this was where I splurged hardest.
The neat thing about California Video’s nostalgic punch is that it doesn’t feel predatory, or even like a tribute. It’s too kempt to be considered a relict, but nothing about it comes across as a put-on. It’s just a video store, dude, and that’s flippin’ great!
My haul, which came to a grand total of five bucks:
Old issues of Wizard and Hero Illustrated? Yes, please! Pass me some Tato Skins and a bottle of Mistic.
Wayne’s World 2 and Timecop on VHS? Well, okay, but only because I need mementos like I need oxygen.
I also bought popcorn and a lollipop because I found it adorably perfect that California Video sold those things.
If you’re interested in checking out the store, here’s California Video’s official site, which fittingly looks like it was designed in 2004. It’s worth the trip!
PPS: This is your absolute last call for Dino Drac’s January Funpack — get in before it’s too late… and it will be, soon!