Break Your Streaming Addiction and Learn to Love DVDs Again

The owner of this new South Street shop says you've been doing it all wrong.

Steve Brasovankin at his new South Street CD and DVD store Pop Culture Vulture, which rents DVDs.

Steve Brasovankin at his new South Street CD and DVD store Pop Culture Vulture, which rents DVDs in Philadelphia.

“Let me just turn down the music,” says Steve Brasovankin as he leads me into his brand new South Street store, Pop Culture Vulture. “This is a true audiophile sound system, the way the music was meant to be heard.”

“What are we listening to?” I asked him, feeling like I should know the answer.

“The Twin Peaks soundtrack,” he replied, sporting a red tee tucked into camouflage sweat pants. “On CD, of course.”

Of course. The Twin Peaks soundtrack, by longtime David Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, is one of tens of thousands of shiny discs Brasovankin owns. Thousands and thousands of CDs. Thousands and thousands of DVDs. And then all sorts of music and movie posters, books and ephemera, all for sale inside the tiny store at 250 South Street in Philadelphia.

“I guess you could say I’m a collector,” he told me. “I have a big house in Elkins Park that I just have a ton of stuff in. The basement is full. So I decided to bring some of it down to sell it here.”

As for the DVDs, he’s also renting them, a practice my teenagers are unfamiliar with. And he’s renting them for just $1.50 for two weeks, should it, for some reason, take you two weeks to watch a two-hour movie.

Pop Culture Vulture is not the most organized place. Oh, the CDs are in one place and the DVDs in another. But nothing is organized by genre. There’s no alphabetization. “It’s just kind of thrown in,” he says.

Brasovankin went on to explain that part of the reason for this lack of organization is that he just doesn’t care that much. But there’s also this: If you come in looking for a very specific science fiction movie and he had the shop all neatly set up with some sort of, you know, system, you might just come in and walk out with that movie two minutes later. But if you come in and are forced to look through a bunch of movies, who knows what you’ll discover? In short, Pop Culture Vulture is very much made for browsing.

He showed me a copy of the 1956 version of Moby Dick, declaring that “Gregory Peck should have won the Oscar.” Moby Dick was above The Apartment, which was just down the row from Little Miss Sunshine. And there was John Garfield in the 1939 noir They Made Me a Criminal. I never knew of the Burt Lancaster western Valdez Is Coming until Brasovankin pointed it out, assuring me that “it’s a great movie.” Want to see the entire Ken Burns Baseball series? He has the DVD box set.

On our way back out to the sidewalk — Brasovankin is very nervous about the Philadelphia Parking Authority, even though he swears he always pays what he’s supposed to at the kiosk — we wandered by some photos for sale of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, Frank Zappa smoking a cigarette next to Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, who was giving the camera the finger, and Bettie Page doing her lusty Bettie Page thing. Strangely, the photos were all sepia-toned.

I also noticed a small collection of vinyl, which has enjoyed a major resurgence in recent years. But Brasovankin says not to expect him to add very much in the vinyl department. Just many, many more CDs and DVDs.

“I hate vinyl,” he says. “That’s all we had when I was a kid. It scratches. It warps. And I just don’t get why you would want to go back to that. CDs just sound better and DVDs sound and look fantastic. People are also realizing that streaming has its limitations. The sights. The sounds. There’s just no comparison to the real thing.” (I can attest to the limitations of streamed movies, having recently compared a streaming version of The Godfather to the Blu-ray I’ve owned since 2010.)

So far, Pop Culture Vulture has only been open two days. But Brasovankin says once he gets people in there, they want to buy stuff.

“Most people just walk by like this is invisible,” he admits. “But people who are into this stuff love this stuff. I thought I’d have a few $15 sales here and a few $20 sales there. But I had people coming in spending $120 and $150. It was great.”

But there’s one thing (and only one thing) that’s not for sale. This werewolf bust:

Steve Brasovankin and his werewolf bust at South Street DVD store Pop Culture Vulture

Steve Brasovankin and his werewolf bust at South Street DVD store Pop Culture Vulture

I asked him what it was. “A werewolf!” he told me. There was no backstory. He has no idea where it came from or if it’s from a certain movie. He just likes it.

Back on the sidewalk, where we sat on two metal folding chairs, the unmistakable stench of cheesesteak grease wafting through the air, presumably from the reopened Jim’s just down the street, Brasovankin told me it doesn’t really matter how much money he makes at Pop Culture Vulture. The store is, he insists, a true labor of love.

“Besides, my landlord gave me a great deal here,” he said. “There are 18 vacancies on the next block. Eighteen! And half of the block I am on is vacant. South Street is kind of decimated. But I feel like it is going to come back. It kind of has to.”

Ed. Note: A previous version of this article misidentified some of the celebrities in the sepia-toned photos.