Driving by Best Video in Hamden, CT might give one pause if they’re not from the area. It’s the word “video” that’s likely to stand out, which is reasonable. Video rental stores went down like dinosaurs in a meteor strike when streaming got its act together. Blockbusters are now Starbucks or Auto Zones, while the indie “ma and pa” retailers like Video Galaxy and Movie Time are simply a relic of our entertainment past, like drive-in movies.
Yet Best Video, otherwise known as Best Video Film & Cultural Center, endures.
Founded in 1985 by Hank Paper, Best Video may have appeared as just another movie rental store. Yet they always had a niche: Mr. Paper’s deep knowledge and appreciation for movies. This translated into Connecticut’s deepest film library, with thousands of titles ranging from esoteric indie and horror to mainstream titles of every genre. But like most niches, sustainability can get tenuous. “We thought we were destined to be like all the other video stores,” says General Manager Richard Brown: “Dead.” As it turned out, the fate of Best Video was far different. After Brown and assistant manager Hank Hoffman banded together some fiercely loyal customers, as well as volunteers in the community, a non-stock, nonprofit corporation was formed. Meetings were held, paperwork filed, and voila! Best Video was granted IRS approval to be a charitable organization with no acting owner.
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Brown acknowledges the effect that streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have had on Best Video. “There’s no denying it,” he states bluntly. “People enjoy the accessibility of watching movies on their phones or laptops or whatever. That’s tough competition for a retail store to take on.” Hence the leap six years ago to creating the performance space in the rear of the store. With a spacious makeshift stage area, a PA and some mics, and generous seating, Best Video regularly hosts live music, writers, and actors. The nonprofit has even reached out to local schools, which resulted in their first student film festival this past autumn. Another centerpiece is the public showing of films, many of which are moderated by Mr. Paper.
Due to its nonprofit standing, BV relies on revenue from fundraising as well as monthly or annual memberships. “It’s the memberships that have really allowed us to continue to invest in our inventory,” Brown says. “We just keep adding more and more films to our already vast library.” Whether it’s live performances, their impressive catalogue of films, or their array of coffee, wines, and beers, Best Video is like no other establishment in the area. “We love the arts,” Brown says. “And we love supporting artists. Having our hand in both is beyond rewarding.”
Visit www.bestvideo.com to learn more about the establishment as well as upcoming cultural events.