Why Open a Video Rental Store in Ardmore in the Era of Netflix and Closing Blockbusters?

“Everyone thought I was nuts."

Video stores have all but vanished, but Miguel Gomez, intrepid former manager of the now-defunct TLA in Bryn Mawr, recently launched Viva Video! The Last Picture Store in Ardmore. What was he thinking?

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” says Gomez, 32, a Haverford College grad and self-described eternal optimist. “Most people wouldn’t tell me to my face, though. My poor wife [Perci] had to deal with those reactions.”

Backed by a loan from his parents, his own savings and a grant from the Ardmore Initiative, Viva Video! The Last Picture Store opened officially on November 30th in a rented storefront at 16 W. Lancaster Ave. A sign for the former occupants, Super Suppers, is still out front.

Viva Video’s bare-bones interior houses more than 8,000 DVDs, including Gomez’s private collection of 2,500, he says. The rest were picked up over the last year from independent DVD houses, TLA stock, yard sales, flea markets, eBay and Craigslist.

Gomez estimates his inventory at 60 to 70 percent of what he carried at TLA, a Bryn Mawr fixture for more than two decades and the last survivor in a once-proud local chain. However, new releases come in every week and there is a constant stream of older films, he says.

It was Gomez’s 13 years at TLA that convinced him there was still a market for a video store on the Main Line. Perci, also his assistant manager, was another story.

“She was less jazzed about it,” he says. “It has not been her dream since high school to run a video store. It took some convincing. We had to make sure we got decent lease terms, so if people weren’t willing to go the extra mile and a half from Bryn Mawr to Ardmore, we wouldn’t lose our house.”

Working in their favor, Gomez says, is his close relationship with TLA customers. “I have a very clear sense of the dedicated fandom we’ve got,” he says. “People like to have a social gathering place and talk about movies. You can’t get that from Netflix.”

Equally important, in Gomez’s view, is the physical DVD itself. “People like to hold something to own or rent. They like the [DVD] boxes. It feels like they’re getting something for their money.”

Gomez says business is brisk, and that he expects to be at the monthly break-even point soon. He offers TLA prices: $5 for new releases over three days; $4.50 for older flicks over five days.

Gomez’s background is as eclectic as his taste in movies. Born in New York City, he moved to his mother’s native Guatemala at age one and six years later to Alexandria, Virginia. His son, Ash, almost three, is named, in part, after the hero in the classic horror trilogy, Evil Dead.

On a lighter note, Gomez last week met with neighboring Bryn Mawr Film Institute to discuss possible cooperative ventures, such as Viva Video! hosting a private screening at the venerated movie house.

Viva Video will have its own special events, as well, Gomez says. He hopes to set up a small café or screening room in the back of the 2,700-square-foot space, and over the summer wants to hold an outdoor screening in the parking lot behind the store.

Viva Video’s unusual name, like everything connected to the store, was done on the cheap—Gomez held a contest for TLA customers in the month before its final curtain, on October 8th. The prize was free rentals.

An eight-year-old girl pitched Viva Video, and a film professor at Columbia came up with The Last Picture Store, a takeoff on The Last Picture Show. Citing “the positivity” of the former and “film literacy” of the latter, Gomez declared both winners.

“My wife thought it might be confused with a framing store,” he says, “but I cannot resist a good film pun.”