But over the past decade, streaming decimated demand and stores closed by the thousands. Today, while Redbox offers limited DVD offerings outside CVS stores and Kroger supermarkets, Atlanta only has one genuine rental store left: the quirky mom-and-pop Videodrome in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, open since 1998.
Ironically, Netflix ― which helped drive Blockbuster and other rental stores out of business ― aired a documentary earlier this year called “The Last Blockbuster” about the final one that exists in Bend, Oregon. And recently, Netflix booked actor Randall Park (”Fresh Off the Boat,” “WandaVision”) to star in a workplace comedy at the last Blockbuster.
Sant’Anselmo, when he purchased the home with the spacious basement, initially thought of creating a Disney-like haunted mansion. “As much as I like that ambiance, it didn’t feel quite right,” he said. A film historian friend Mike Malloy in early 2018 was shooting a “talking head” bit for a Blu-ray extra video of the film “Syndicate Sadists” from 1975 and needed someone to play a video store clerk behind him.
That was when the idea hit him to create his own video store.
He tore up the basement carpets and spent weeks installing black-and-white tile flooring: “I love ‘50s diners and I think checkered floors are just more interesting and energetic than a blank floor.” Plus, he didn’t want it to resemble the more homogenized chain stores that came later.
He painstakingly created “distressed” brick walls going down the stairs and into the main room to evoke a Manhattan nook-style video store circa 1986. He had a friend design a special Mondo Video logo of a girl on a Pee Wee Herman-style scooter with VHS tapes on the back. He installed a saloon double-door for a small “adult” section. Movie posters (”Risky Business,” “Mac and Me“) and cardboard cutouts of “E.T.,” Chevy Chase, Richard Pryor and Paul Hogan of “Crocodile Dundee” fame accent the space. He even built out shelves that are actually hidden doors into other rooms.
While Sant’Anselmo’s replica store is like a fever dream of his childhood, he did allow for one blatant anachronism in his dream: modern flat-screen TVs mounted in a couple of the rooms rather than the more cumbersome cathode-ray tube TVs of yore.
“I went for functionality with a larger viewing screen,” he said, jokingly adding, “Doc Brown brought them from the future,” referencing the 1985 film “Back to the Future.” He likes to play 1980s MTV videos such as “Take on Me” or films like “Major League” on the screens when visitors come by to admire his work.
Genevieve DeMars, a Smyrna children’s TV show producer and Sant’Anselmo’s sister-in-law, said she never questioned his ambition. “His love of story is woven into the video store,” she said. “It’s an experience. It’s immersive. We live in such a virtual world and this is something tactile and tangible. It’s a feeling you get that he’s captured.”
As a young child, Sant’Anselmo spent a lot of time at the mom-and-pop Movie Mart in Canoga Park, California, in the 1980s before chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video began taking over in the 1990s. He gravitated toward the colorful graphics of the horror section, even when he was too young to actually rent them. His mom was especially strict. At age 11, his dad did allow him to rent “The Toxic Avenger,” “Surf Nazis Must Die” and “Class of Nuke’em High” and he was suitably enthralled.
He also became fascinated with puppetry and animatronics after watching films like “Clash of the Titans”, “Gremlins” and “Dark Crystal.” He shot stop-animation horror shorts as a teen. After college, he briefly worked at a Hollywood Video in Michigan. All this eventually led to his career in animation and working with Matt Stone and Trey Parker on “South Park.”
His wife Fabienne is both understanding and exasperated by her husband’s quixotic hobby.
“It’s definitely been a trying process,” Fabienne said. “A very long process. It’s been a number of years and every time I think it’s done, he goes and changes the color and everything comes down and it’s a disaster again. Then he puts it back together.”
At the same time, she acknowledges, “it’s definitely fun to be down there. It’s way better than any man cave. Of course, when my 70-something mom comes over to have movie night, she has to walk through the adult section to use the bathroom. My mom is very prim and proper. It’s pretty funny.”
Fabienne said there was a small battle for real estate downstairs. She had hoped to keep a room as a mud room/dog washroom but he turned it into a room packed with kids VHS tapes which he calls Mondo Kideo.
“I tried many times to stop him,” Fabienne said, with a sigh. “He took it over.”
He noted that VHS tapes have gotten more expensive to purchase over time as more collectors jump aboard and supplies get more scarce. He hunts specific titles down all over the place, be it thrift stores, Goodwill, Craiglist, eBay and VHS groups on social media sites. He said he also invites VHS collector pals into his home to talk shop and “nerd out on tapes” about once a month.
While he said the store is ready for viewing, he said he will keep fiddling. There is a space behind a door marked “manager” that hasn’t been finished. He is planning to create a tracking system for his VHS tapes and buy a vintage cash register to complete the illusion.
Sant’Anselmo won’t divulge how much he spent on the project though it’s obvious by his attention to detail and the sheer number of videos that this was by no means a bargain basement.
And he is also well aware he wasn’t the first to try this. Early on, he discovered James Rolfe, known online as the “Angry Video Game Nerd,” had beaten him to the punch. “The idea I had visually was quite different from his so it didn’t take any wind out of the sails and I was still fired up to build it,” he said.
Then earlier this year, an Iowa man’s basement rental store became a TikTok viral sensation and landed him a spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in March.
“It’s rad that it went viral and had such a great response,” Sant’Anselmo said. “It shows people truly miss video stores.”