Best Video Store - 2000
Hollywood & Vine Video
Readers' Choice: Blockbuster Video
Independent video stores -- at least those that stock more than porn -- continue to approach extinction, but a few of the rare creatures are still extant, and the best is Hollywood & Vine Video, now in its 17th year of operation. Presided over by voluble owner Rich Engelke, who sits at a smallish, centrally located desk and discourses knowledgeably about films both popular and obscure, H&V boasts about 4,800 titles. Anal-retentives who like a store with tidy categories and alphabetized shelves may find themselves disoriented by Engelke's lack of signage and the absence of a clear organizing principle. Browse a bit, however, and genres become apparent, and Engelke asserts that there is order to the seeming chaos (titles are arranged by studio) -- it's just that he's the only one who could possibly find the system useful. Why the absence of labels? "I like to mess with their minds," Engelke says, finishing with a sinister giggle. But ask him whether he stocks a title, and, without referencing his computer database, Engelke will stroll to the proper shelf and magically produce the video. Engelke, who proclaims himself a "walking and talking encyclopedia of movies," estimates that he's seen 90 percent of the films in his store, and he's not shy about sharing his opinions, regularly dispensing savvy critiques, recommendations and warnings to the loyal customers who journey to Webster Groves from all over the metro area. Always a movie connoisseur's haven -- it has an impressive collection of letterboxed videos, for example -- Hollywood & Vine's newest attraction for the cineaste is its burgeoning DVD section, some 425 titles and growing daily. Engelke confidently claims that his is "the largest selection of DVDs in the area -- little ol' me." Although lacking in the salacious material many independents rely on to survive, H&V also admirably refuses to bend to the forces of censorship: "I had Orgazmo and Happiness and The Last Temptation of Christ when Blockbuster and Hollywood wouldn't touch 'em," Engelke notes, adding, "They'll put those Playboy videos on the shelves, but they won't carry anything controversial." So if you're looking for that elusive copy of the NC-17-rated The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, head to Hollywood & Vine -- as with so much else, you'll find it nowhere but there.