The Last Picture Store

An oral history of Video Americain

by Jenn Ladd (Baltimore City Paper, March 12, 2014)

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Barry and Annie Solan in front of the last Video Americain, in Roland Park. The Solans and their two partners at one time operated six stores. (Photo: City Paper)

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Clockwise from top left: the sign at Video Americain’s roland park location; VA founders, L-R, Barry Solan, Michael Bradley, and David Ostheimer, in front of the Roland Park store; the sign at one of the original Newark, Delaware locations; the founders in front of a Norfolk, Virginia store; Founders behind the counter. (Photos courtesy of Michael Bradley)

Seven years ago, erstwhile CP editor Lee Gardner posed the question “Will the internet kill the local video store?” (“Rental Hygiene,” Feature, March 7, 2007). This week, the Video Americain on Cold Spring Lane closes its doors for the last time. It is the last video store of its kind* in Baltimore. The Roland Park location, opened in March of 1989 in a ramshackle converted gas station, was one in a constellation of six stores originally started in Newark, Del., by Barry Solan, Michael Bradley, and David Ostheimer, three men united in their love of repertory cinema. Though it dealt in mainstream releases, Video Americain quickly became an institution, beloved by Baltimore’s cineaste community, offering Bertolucci and Buñuel alongside Uwe Boll, period pieces beside pornos (the Roland Park store was the only store never to carry porn). For its clerks—who acquired reputations for snobbery—the store served as an informal film school, and many employees went on to have professional careers in the film industry.

Then came the internet. As pirated movies proliferated and Netflix reared up from the web, Video Americain suffered the same loss of customer base as the mom-and-pop stores, the Hollywood Videos, and the Blockbusters did; students were among the first to desert the video store, and its Charles Village shop shuttered in 2012. Before that, two of the original partners, Bradley and Ostheimer, left the business to allow for it to continue under the management of Solan and his wife, Annie, a fellow lover and a longtime fixture in the stores. After closing down the second-to-last store, in Takoma Park, the Solans focused on the Roland Park outpost, but in August of last year, they announced its imminent closure. It rented its last video in December, before commencing a sale of its inventory.

Here, 18 people, including the Solans, Bradley, Ostheimer, and a number of store managers, employees, and longstanding customers, recall the history of Video Americain, remembering its origins, its moments of greatness, its quirks, and its mournful demise.

Continue reading “The Last Picture Store” at citypaper.com.

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See also:

Au Revoir, Video Americain” (Fern Shen, Baltimore Brew)

Le Morte de Video Americain” (Baltimore Or Less)

As Time Goes By” (Max Weiss, Baltimore Magazine)

Video Americain in Baltimore Magazine” (Accelerated Decrepitude, May 2008)

Video Americain (Official website)

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