Just south of Bloor Street on Bay is the marvelous multitude of film, appropriately named Bay Street Video. A testament to organization and dedication to film, Bay Street Video is unlike any video store in Toronto. The moment you step into the store you realize you are in for something special, a fact that the people at Bay Street are very proud of.
I was greeted at Bay Street Video by the long time manager Paul Roth, an enthusiastic wealth of video store history who has worked as a video store manager for over twenty-six years. The store, at 1172 Bay Street, has been in relatively the same location for over thirty years since the early days of VHS and Beta. Originally a Mr. Video, it was forced to close under suspicious circumstances involving an alleged robbery. The next owner kept the space as a video store, expanding it into Toronto’s largest selection of VHS, Beta, Laser Disk and even the seldom remembered CED disks. During this time the store became a haven for famous and influential film industry actors, directors and producers staying at the nearby luxury hotels while in Toronto for film shoots and festivals. In the 1990′s the store fell on hard times and was foreclosed upon by the buildings owners who kept the store running just as it had before, “Minus the skimming off the top.” Roth adds. Bay Street Video has always been dedicated to the newest formats and got on board the DVD train from the start purchasing the very first four titles ever released.
If you live anywhere near this store you have to come and check out their collection of over 22,000 titles for rent and thousands more available for purchase. All you need is a credit card and photo identification. You can also get yourself added to a friend or family member’s account if you don’t have the necessary documentation. Bay Street rents DVDs and Blu-ray for $4.95 for new releases with a one night rental unless you rent three or more and then you get them for two nights and at a slightly discounted price of $4.30 each. Older catalogue films are $3.75 each for five days or if you rent more than three the cost is $3.25 and you get them for a whole week. Box sets are divided into smaller groups which rent for the same prices as videos. They also offer a rental extension at the time of rental for $1. Bay Street Video’s frequent renter card gets you a free rental after every twelve and judging by their collection it won’t take you long to reach that dozen.
The popular titles at Bay Street right now are Academy Award winners like The King’s Speech and Biutiful. British television shows like Prime Suspect and Wire in the Blood are fan favorites. The ever popular Criterion collection, “Always dominates,” says Roth. Especially titles like Elevator to the Gallows, 8 1/2, Rushmore, and The Leopard. Bay Street is proud of its Criterion collection carrying every single Criterion title available including the rare and out of print.
The Inside Scoop
The most important thing to know about Bay Street Video is that they are not just a rental store. They also sell films. Now, they don’t just have a small selection of films or previously viewed DVDs to purchase. Almost every title they rent is for sale. On each video are two tags. One is the tag you use to rent a film, the other is if you want to buy the film. “Bay Street video is a major destination for the serious film collector,” Roth points out. Their entire 22,000 film catalogue is on sale and more than that, they have access to over 100,000 titles not even in the store. Roth stresses that video sales is 50% of the business at Bay Street video. If there is something you want and it isn’t in the store, Roth is sure they can get it. They are currently acquiring 100 films a week for clients, proudly professing a 100% success rate in acquiring films, including rare and imported films. Their sales are so widespread that Toronto Star uses Bay Street’s sales numbers for their weekly Top Ten Video Sales information. You can also check out Bay Street’s catalogue on line at their website, http://www.baystreetvideo.com.
Bay Street video has a simple philosophy, “If you are going to do something, do it right.” Roth says. “If you are going to carry Noir films, carry them all, and we do.” With a few exceptions Bay Street Video carries virtually every genre. “It is hard to say what our specialty is. We lean towards absolutely everything.” Roth admits. Because of their location they have a unique mix of clientele. Surrounded by luxury condominiums, Bay Street high rises and University of Toronto students, Bay Street Video caters to everyone. Their reputation for obtaining videos for customers brings in clientele from the four points of Toronto. The ultimate indication that they are doing it right is when people walk in and exclaim, “Oh my God, I have looked everywhere for this!” Roth says.
Why Get off the Couch
The main reason to get off the couch is to simply see Bay Street Video. Their catalogue is displayed along every wall in meticulously organized black display sleeves, each the size of a DVD case. Every black folder represents a single film and when you take in the sea of black cases you begin to get a picture of Bay Street’s impressive collection. It is unlike any other store in Toronto.
Changing technology is something that Bay Street Video has always kept up with but the advent of “on demand” movies, Netflix and illegal downloading has had a negative effect on the store over the past few years. Roth is confident that the selection, quality and interactive experience of the video store is something that the online world cannot compete with, “Going to the video store is part of the fun experience. You get there and you have the ‘WOW look at all of this!’ “ A change Roth has noticed over the years is the age of the customers, “You do not see youth in video stores anymore… They look at you like you are crazy when you talk about renting. For them viewing has become a computer thing.” Roth thinks they are missing out, “Going to the video store, getting off your duff, is going to open your eyes to things you might not have thought of.” Roth is hopeful though because, “When they do come in they are blown away.”
The staff at Bay Street are very knowledgeable, and Roth states that each of his staff have film school backgrounds. Their input is essential to what Bay Street Video stocks, “I’ve always had an amazing staff. Everyone always has a say in how the business is run.” Roth admits. This is evident while flipping through the display cases where yellow post-it notes can be found on the cover of many films with comments, written by the staff, indicating a special favorite. If you see one of these recommendations Roth says, “The films are winners.” Besides Roth, I also talked to staff members Mark and Christina to get some suggestions based on their favorite films. Roth proudly admits his love for “Eighties teen trash comedies”; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off being at the top of his list. Mark recommends the unique double bill of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Mighty Ducks while Christina’s favorites include AmÃ©lie and Sunset Boulevard.
Bay Street video offers so much more including snacks, video transfers and even mailbox rentals. It is a perfect example of the dedication, commitment and respect to film that is shared by the independent video store community of Toronto. So the next time you want that special DVD for your collection and you think it is impossible to find, you better think again and then get yourself over to Bay Street Video.
The Place: Bay Street Video
Hours: Every Day 10am “˜till Midnight
Find It At: 1172 Bay Street
Call “˜Em: (416) 964-9088
On the Web: http://www.baystreetvideo.com
Size of Selection: 22,000 rental, access to 100,000 for sale.
Needed to Rent: Credit card and Picture I.D. Or deposit.
Cost to Rent: $4.30 – $4.95 new releases, $3.25 – $3.75 catalogue, $3.25 – $4.95 for box sets (split into sections)