A Look Back, A Step Forward!

As the sun sets and we lock up the gate for the last time, I thought it might be of cool to look back where all this started. And why. And how…

The year was 1995, Batman Forever wormed its way into top spot in the theatres, “I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth)” by Meatloaf topped the musical charts and this fresh-faced, 30-year-old kid with a full head of hair, just got off the boat from Ontario.

After moving into the lovely Cambie hood (rented an entire house for $1100!) I became quickly disillusioned with the lack of quality video stores in my neighbourhood. I would spend 45 minutes in (shudder) Blockbuster or Mega Movies and leave empty handed. Ugh. What’s a movie lover to do? After consulting with my friend/guru Larry on a road trip through the southern US (won’t be doing that again anytime soon), I decided to try my hand at opening my own business. Was I nuts? Maybe! What did I know about running a business? Nothing! Except that I knew a bit about film, and I also knew what kind of shop I wanted to present to the public. Something I thought was cool. Something comfortable, safe and welcoming. A little piece of me.

March 5, 1996, saw the official opening of Black Dog Video on Cambie Street. Armed with 800 movies in my arsenal and a floor covered in Astroturf, we were a hit right off the bat! I remember staying up into the wee hours of the morning the night before getting “dog biscuit tags” ready. I thought it would be a neat idea to write the movie numbers on dog biscuits that folks could bring up to the desk to get the corresponding movie. What I did not anticipate was the dog that came in 20 minutes after opening who ate 5-6 of these “tags” before I could stop him. Oh well. Still a great day!

Two years later we moved across the street into a bigger and better location. Business took off quickly and we added hundreds and then thousands of more films to the collection. I put a request book on the desk and was promptly flooded with tons of great suggestions and it became an invaluable part of the shop. I learned very quickly that my film knowledge was not as great as I thought it was.

We had many ups – late night parties, a fund-raiser were 2 guys played Asteroids in the shop for 24 hours, an art gallery in the front window, did I mention parties? – and downs – the passing of our good friend, John Skibinski was a terrible shock. Still miss that guy. The fire in 2004 that destroyed our VHS collection and put us out of business for a few months (it turned into a bit of a blessing as we replaced the tapes with DVDs with the insurance money). The “Rav Hole” construction slowed things down (and cracked the shop’s foundation) and then ultimately the advent of the mediocre streaming services finally sealed the deal. But not before we opened a second shop…

The year was 2005, Star Wars Episode Whatever ruled the box office, the Black-Eyed Peas “My Humps” dominated the airwaves and I was about to welcome two fresh babies into my life. The first was in the form of an actual human flesh baby – my awesome sprog, Gus. The second was in the form of an unwanted, neglected trash baby that was a previous video store on Commercial Drive which we took over that fall.

The Cambie shop had been humming along for 9 years to much success but was a little hesitant about opening another shop on the Drive as there was already four or five video stores here.

But my fears were to be unfounded as this shop was an even bigger hit then the Cambie location (sorry other Drive video stores). Things were good (for the most part – a rock through the front window on Christmas morning wasn’t as much fun as it sounds), we had bought a house in the hood and we had a good staff to help me navigate the strange, edgy East Van crowd. It was a wild and crazy time. I could tell you stories.

Fast forward almost 17 years later and here we are. The end of an era. The writing seemed to be on the wall when all the other shops around town started closing about 10 years ago. Stupid, lame streaming services was to be the undoing of us all. Convenience wins out over quality once again. I was going to close the Cambie shop during the pandemic in 2020 but one of my employees, RJ asked if he could buy it and give it a go. Who was I to say no? I could have made a lot more money shutting it down and selling the stock, but I would have rather seen it go into good loving hands.

A couple of years later, the pandemic still pandemicing, the subsidies and grant money that kept us afloat for the past couple of years dried up, and business kept heading in the wrong direction. It was time.

Closing the shop was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. It broke my heart. As it did the long-suffering staff. And a lot of customers. The response, the outpouring of love and sadness was overwhelming and amazing. It touched the grey, dank recesses of this old man’s heart. I was amazed that we stuck it out as long as we did (mainly due to my stubbornness, the amazing selection of films that we provided and the willingness of enough of you lovely folks to help keep the lights on and the doors open. That and the fact my wife had an actual paying job so I could indulge in my dream).

My passion never wavered for this job – even in the face of various hardships. It was the same with the staff, many of whom I’ve become and remained good friends with (of course there were a few duds in there, but they will remain nameless). We just loved doing this job.

What’s next you ask? Well, we’ll still be living online and haunting your dreams. I have quite a few gems to sell and will be adding more swag and films as we move boldly into the future. The podcast will continue, so listen in! And don’t forget RJ over at Video Cat on Cambie (just ignore the awning). Give him your movie love or that will be it for video stores in Vancouver.

I could go on and on about this wonderful dream I had. The fact that I got to live it for over 26 years means quite a lot to me. It’s hard to put into words. I just want to thank you all – all the great staff, all the excellent customers that I’ve met – most of my friends have some connection to the shops – and to Vancouver for letting me be a part of this fine city and its culture. Gonna miss it all fiercely.

 

Hugs and kisses.

2 replies
  1. Conrad
    Conrad says:

    Great story! thanks for sharing! The closing of Black Dog is truly the end of an Era. These things happen in life, so you should feel the warm and fuzzies that you actually made an impact. There is a time and place for streaming services, but there is simply no replacement for the quality and diversity of old stuff that I could only ever find at video stores like yours. I will miss that. So long and thanks for all the memories*!

    (*I was soooo tempted to say “fish” there)

    Reply
    • Darren
      Darren says:

      Thanks, Conrad! And thanks for coming into our little shop over the years!

      (I used that “fish” thank you last week! Hah!)

      Reply

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