When my baby was born we debated moving to the “˜burbs, and to be honest I could really do without most of the urban amenities that Toronto has to offer. The one thing, however, I was most concerned about losing access to was Queen Video.
Queen Video, a major fixture of Queen Street, located at 412 Queen Street West just west of Spadina Ave, began as an electronics store in 1981, but its focus quickly moved to video rentals. With its tightly packed rows upon rows of DVD cases lining almost every visible surface and available shelf space,their small selection at the rear of the shop has since exploded into an eclectic cornucopia of over 75,000 titles. The store itself has multiplied, giving rise to two more locations, one at 480 Bloor Street (near Bloor and Bathurst) and another at 688 College Street (College and Beatrice).
For membership to the wondrous world of near-limitless cinema you only need to provide a credit card, but if you don’t have a credit card a deposit will do. You can then search through the DVDs, Blue-Rays and the rare VHS jewels Queen Video has in store for you. The prices are reasonable, at $4.75 for a 2 day rental (new films) or $3.75 for a 7 day rental. Box sets and television seasons abound and range from $5 to $15 for a week-long rental. There is even something for the little ones, with a “rent two, get one free” special on children’s selections.
During one of my nearly daily visits to the store I spoke with two of the regular staffers, Anna Oyen and Chris Stratigakis, about the vast wealth of cinema plentitude that is Queen Video. They guided me through the bountiful genres available. Besides the typical new releases, action, comedy, drama and horror, the store boasts categories such as silent films, film noir, experimental, blacksploitation, foreign, Shakespearian, alternative lifestyle and grindhouse, to name a few. Of the thousands of titles, some movies visit the check out counter more than others. Titles like Blow Up , Withnail and I , City of God , Brazil , Blade Runner , The Conformist , Mon Oncle , and TV shows like Freaks and Geeks are in a constant state of rental.
THE INSIDE SCOOP
Realizing I might soon have to resort to the big video conglomerates I asked Anna and Chris what advice they might have for someone in the reverse situation, someone renting at Queen Video for the first time. “Expand your horizons. Don’t be afraid,” Anna says with a laugh. If you are at a loss and feel overwhelmed, “Check out the staff picks,” Chris adds. Each member of the staff has set aside their favorite movies to help customers find that gem they would not normally rent.
Queen Video is not the only independent rental store in town, but it often wins the cities top prizes for favorite independent video store. So I wanted to know what they had that you couldn’t get anywhere else. If you are looking for early silent films this is the place to go. The Great Courses lectures series is also a favorite of Queen renters and their catalogue of foreign imports is impressive, with at least three titles from whatever country you can think of.
WHY CHOOSE TO GET OFF THE COUCH
Other stores are not the only competition for Queen, and I asked them how they compete with illegal downloads and bootlegs. “Selection,” Chris explains, “and customer service.” People who are downloading are looking for the newest blockbuster films and Queen Video’s selection and prices offer more than the internet can. “You can get T.V. online but you can’t get stuff from the 20s or 30s online,” Anna points out.
Always looking for something new in the world of film, I turn to the experts at Queen to give me their personal treasures. Never an easy task for a film buff, but Anna breathes deep and gives me her list of favourites; The Third Man , Le Samurai , Tell No One , Singing in the Rain and Angel-A . Mostly Foreign films and Classics. Now that I have some new movie titles to add to my “˜to watch’ list, I know exactly where I am going to go to rent them, before I move into the house with the white picket fence and without a foreign film section in sight.
The Place: Queen Video
Find It At: 412 Queen Street West (additional locations at 480 Bloor Street and 688 College Street)
Call ‘Em: (416) 504-3030
Size of Selection: 75,000 (no, we’re not kidding — yes, that’s all in one store)
Needed to Rent: Credit card or deposit.
Cost to Rent: $4.75 for a 2 day rental (new films) $3.75 for a 7 day rental. Box sets and TV $5 to $15 for a week-long rental.
Toronto for Rent is a bi-monthly series profiling Toronto’s neighbourhood rental stores. Far beyond Blockbuster, we’re helping you bring home the best, fun, interesting and just plain weird.