The flagship location of Queen Video, the iconic Toronto film-rental shop, is closing its doors after 35 years in business, and will begin selling off its 50,000 titles beginning on Friday.
Howie and Penny Levman opened the store on July 11, 1981 with a small stock of VHS tapes. Now with online streaming allowing customers to cue up entertainment without getting out of bed, the Levmans say it's time to close up shop.
"I'm not going to feel too sad. I understand it. It's been a long time," Howie Levman told CBC News on Thursday.
"We've survived a long time and apparently it's very rare in business, as everyone tells me."
To get ready for the stock sell-off, staff spent Thursday putting all 50,000 titles back into their original packages. The sale begins Friday at 11 a.m.
"I think it's one of the premiere collections in the world," Levman said.
"I've never really sold films, I've just accumulated them over the years. There's a lot of rare stuff, right from the silent era up to the new releases."
The secret to Queen Video's success was its wide breadth of titles, he said, from foreign and classic films to horrors and dramas not found at the big-box rental shops.
"We have a reputation now after all these years," Levman said. "If it's on our wall it might be worth seeing."
Levman's wife, Penny, says that the name for the store came from her — "it became a joke that I was the Queen."
She admitted to feeling emotional about the shop's closing, particularly because so many customers who first stopped in 35 years ago are now coming in with children of their own.
"It's sad because this was our first baby," she said.
There were some lean years when the store first opened because, even in 1981, not many households had VCRs. "Customers were few and far between," Levman said.
But by the time the Levmans had their first child in 1986, business had picked up.
The shop became a destination for film buffs and academics, as well as locals who liked to go in and browse.
Netflix 'a bad word'
"It's an institution," customer Todd Marinacci said while shopping on Thursday. "It was a real neighbourhood business."
Marinacci started popping into the store when he moved to the neighbourhood in 1992.
"With all of us downloading and all that now, I guess it's harder for the independents to stay in business," he said.
Customer Chris Limisis was in looking at the shop's collection of movie posters Thursday, which he dubbed "a very sad day."
"This place offered a lot of obscure films and I've always liked supporting that. And I've liked coming here with no plan and just perusing," Limisis said. "It's a shame that it's closing."
The Levmans don't have Netflix, and Penny joked that it's "a bad word" in their household.
Even though Netflix and other streaming services offer recommendations to viewers based on their previous selections, that will never replace the shop's real staff who were deeply knowledgeable about films, they said.
"The computer algorithms are just a popularity contest. But any good video store clerk, not just us but in the industry, can steer you in a direction that you never would have known to go," Howie said.
"And you get a friend for life when you send somebody home with a movie they end up loving."