Robert Horton joins Philip Wohlstetter, filmmakers Lynn Shelton and Megan Griffiths, and Scarecrow director Kate Barr to testify at the Seattle City Council meeting on the importance of The Scarecrow Project as a non-profit film archive to the City of Seattle.
Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, arguably the greatest video story in the known universe, has been holding out against the changing habits of film viewing due to the onslaught of streaming video and digital distribution.
Today, Scarecrow announced The Scarecrow Project, which will transition the business to a non-profit organization. It’s the next step in preserving the amazing collection of movies on Blu-ray, DVD, laserdisc, and VHS: the largest single collection of physical home video in the United States, including thousands of movies and other programs no longer available in any format.
The project was initiated by the employees themselves, led by Joel Fisher and Kate Barr, who are going forward with the help of local and national advisers, including Tim League, the founder and CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse.
I myself worked at Scarecrow back in its glory days of the 1990s, where I was a manager on the inventory team during the launch of DVD and the bankruptcy of the store under its original owner, George Latsiois. Scarecrow has weathered a lot of changes and come through them all thanks to the commitment of its employees and its owners, who have always seen the film as more than simply a business. The current owners, Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough, have kept the store running despite falling rentals and sales. They now hand the reigns over to the next generation.
It’s been called the greatest video store in the country. Bernardo Bertolucci not only frequented the store while shooting Little Buddha in Seattle, he praised the store and its cinema treasures to a sold-out audience at the film’s Seattle premiere. Bertrand Tavernier explored the entire laserdisc section and gushed over the selection of Cy Enfield and William Whitney tapes with store employees in his 1997 visit. Quentin Tarantino, a video store veteran in his own right, paid tribute by walking from downtown Seattle to the store’s University District location: his personal pilgrimage to the video Mecca.
And in addition to stocking a magnificently curated rental library of movies on home video, Scarecrow in its heyday brought such guests as Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, John Woo, Monte Hellman, Nicolas Roeg and Seijun Suzuki to Seattle for glorious retrospectives.
Seattle’s Scarecrow Video has been called the greatest video store in the country, praised by the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci (who discovered it while shooting “Little Buddha”) and Quentin Tarantino (who walked from downtown Seattle to the store’s University District location as a kind of pilgrimage to the video Mecca), explored by Bertrand Tavernier in 1997 (he took in the entire laserdisc section and gushed over the selection of Cy Enfield and William Whitney tapes), and voted the Best of Seattle consistently in the annual Seattle Weekly readers polls. (Full disclosure: I was a manager at Scarecrow for three years back in the nineties and I am still a regular customer.)
Scarecrow opened in 1988 with a couple of hundred videotapes, many of them oddball cult titles, from the personal collection of founder George Latsios. Twenty five years later, after a near-bankruptcy and a rescue by a couple of Microsoft engineers (Carl Tostevin is now the store’s sole owner), it has an inventory of almost 120,000 titles, including the biggest selection of Blu-rays in the city and an envious collection of out-of-print DVDs (as well VHS tapes and laserdiscs that have never been released to DVD) that would command small fortunes on the collector’s market. (Those rentals require a deposit.)
And like most surviving video store in the age of instant streaming and video-on-demand, Scarecrow is struggling to keep customers coming through the doors. General manager Kevin Shannon reports that rentals have dropped over 50% in the last six years.
I don’t worry about Google searches, but if the NSA profiles people by what they rent at Scarecrow Video, I’m on a few watch lists.
On a recent two-for-one Wednesday, I’ve got a Nazisploitation flick, a couple of? ’60s Eurospy Bond knockoffs, and a spaghetti Western. Plus early-’70s Satanic-possession and women’s-prison movies on VHS that’ve never been on DVD.
“Stack o’ trash,” I say sheepishly at the counter. The clerk doesn’t judge me. She’s seen the particularly vile horror title in the stack. (Martyrs. You’re warned.) She recommends something similar for next time.
I began gorging each week when I recently considered leaving Seattle. I’d previously written for The Seattle Times that Scarecrow was the Alexandria library of video stores, and I wanted to take advantage while I could. (Disclosure: The store contributes surplus DVDs to my podcast.)
Recently I’d seen a couple of their jaw-dropping rare-clip compilations at the nearby Grand Illusion. A new espresso bar has a screening area with tables. Beer is even served during the free screenings—currently including Monday-night servings of the 1994 Showtime series Rebel Highway; the reggae documentary True Born African: The Story of Winston “Flames” Jarrett, who’ll attend the 6 p.m. Friday event; a crazy VHS compilation at 8 p.m. Saturday; and Sunday’s All About Eve (1 p.m.) and three TV episodes of Saved by the Bell (5 p.m.).
In addition to a powerful, searchable website, Scarecrow even has a podcast. It would appear that the iconic store—a perennial winner in our Best of Seattle® readers poll—is flourishing.
“What you’re seeing there is us trying new things to try to keep the store open,” owner Carl Tostevin tells me. “I would say we are struggling to the point that I just don’t know how long we are going to last.”