The Last Video Store in the Bronx

4 Sep

On May 27 of this year, my local video store, a branch of the once-thriving FYE (For Your Entertainment) chain, closed its doors for good. Construction began immediately on the site for a new business and just last week it opened, giving our neighborhood for the first time (shudder!), a Starbucks. I had been a regular customer of FYE for 15 years, starting in 2002 when it replaced a previous video franchise on the site, Coconuts, from which I only have one record of a purchase, in August 1999, of three VHS tapes—a Jackie Chan movie and two Godzilla movies, all dubbed in English. I’m sure I must have purchased more there, but I hadn’t noted down any others. I can’t prove there are no more family video stores left in the Bronx (as opposed to those in the X-rated business), but I’m betting this FYE was the last one. (There aren’t many video stores left in Manhattan either.) I used to go to a FYE in Manhattan, but I don’t remember where it was or when it closed. According to a news story on the Bronx FYE closing, there is still one branch open in Queens.

I like FYE because it had sections devoted to Anime and Martial Arts, so I could keep track of new anime releases and new kung fu releases, whether new HK productions like the IP MAN series or  Shaw Bros. or other classics finally showing up on legit U.S. DVD editions. These two releases were among the great finds:

FYE carried a lot of Pokémon and Power Rangers box sets. Each series had its own section. When the newest annual Pokémon movie got released in the U.S., FYE usually had it right away. I balked at buying the big Power Rangers box sets with several seasons at prices well over $100, but when they started releasing individual season sets, some complete, some in two volumes, I waited till the prices came down on the ones I wanted and started picking those up. (Yes, for instance, on Power Rangers Zeo, Turbo, In Space, Lost Galaxy, Lightspeed Rescue and Time Force. No on Operation Overdrive, S.P.D., and R.P.M.)

They did not have a Classic section, but they did have sections for War and Western and I bought a lot of titles from the latter. Classics in other genres were available in the Comedy, Drama, Horror and Sci-Fi sections and many turned up frequently in sale bins, often in the Used section. They carried VHS titles for years and when VHS finally began to fade from the scene, they put a lot of titles on sale, so I could snatch up bargains by the armful, like WHITE HEAT (below). Eventually, no more VHS releases were on sale, but they continued for several more years to sell blank VHS tape to diehards like me who still used a VCR.

They often carried new releases specifically designed for my tastes. They tended to charge full retail price for them, but I felt like rewarding them for daring to carry something as esoteric as the five-film box set of Kinji Fukasaku’s THE YAKUZA PAPERS from Home Vision Enterprises. (How many other Kinji Fukasaku fans are there in my neighborhood?) When Timeless Media released its box set of Science Fiction Theatre: The Complete Series (1955-57), FYE had it right away and I bought it on the spot at a discounted price of $39.99. I later checked Amazon.com and the price was about $8 cheaper.

I increasingly began taking note of what they had and then cross-checking with Amazon to see what the price differential was. If the prices were close, I’d buy the title at FYE, again, just to reward them. However, once I retired two years ago, I was a little more careful about that. I liked the fact that they carried the new Shout Factory releases of the Super Sentai series from Japan that formed the basis of the U.S. Power Rangers franchise. I bought the first three sets from FYE even though Amazon offered them at a price that was about $10 cheaper. The last two sets, however, were cheap enough on Amazon that I couldn’t pass up ordering them that way, instead of paying $20 more for each set at FYE.  But when the Power Rangers seasons started coming out in reasonably priced box sets, FYE carried them and that’s where I bought most of them. And there were multiple cases where the FYE price was lower than the Amazon price. In the best instance of that, the box set of Pokémon Indigo League Volume 2 cost me $9.99, while the price listed on Amazon was $59.50!

Close perusal of the sale bins often yielded some great bargains and pleasant surprises. In March, 2011, I found a Japanese historical epic called SWORDS OF VENGEANCE, aka FALL OF AKO CASTLE, which was a 1978 retelling of the story of the 47 Ronin directed by Kinji Fukasaku and starring, among others, Sonny Chiba and Toshiro Mifune. Why had I never heard of this film before? And it was only $1.78! When I watched it, I was so impressed that I reviewed it for IMDB. I found an early Robert Mitchum western, NEVADA (1944), for $1.97 and I wrote about it here in a piece on Mitchum’s film debut. I got the extended cut of Sam Peckinpah’s MAJOR DUNDEE there for $3.58 and my Blu-ray of WEST SIDE STORY for $5.00. A multi-disc set of GONE WITH THE WIND cost me $6.00. A Blu-ray of THE SEARCHERS (which also came with a DVD) cost me $7.99. I bought all three titles in the Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy for $5.39 each. I don’t believe any of these were in the used section.

They often had box sets from various classic TV series at bargain prices, so within the last three years of my purchases there, I loaded up on complete runs of Perry Mason, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Star Trek and The Rat Patrol, and selected seasons of Sgt. Bilko, The Fugitive, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Mission: Impossible, Hawaii 5-0, Adam-12 and The Rockford Files, among others. When I needed to sample some Perry Mason TV movies for my Raymond Burr Centennial piece this past May, I went to FYE and found a two-movie set for $5.98.

The store also stocked magazines and was the only place outside of Kinokuniya Books (in Manhattan) where I could find copies of Otaku USA, a magazine I wrote for from 2009 to 2014. The magazine never sent me copies so when an issue came out with one of my pieces, I looked in FYE first and bought them there. Here’s the issue that had my Berryz Kobo interview:

The staff was always friendly and helpful and open to discussions of new things. When they started selling Pokémon merchandise I told the clerk about my visits to the Pokémon Center in Tokyo and the Pokémon Gym in Osaka and he seemed genuinely interested. Another young clerk volunteered to me that he’d just listened to a Led Zeppelin album and thought that he’d share his enthusiasm about them and similar bands he named (which I’ve forgotten) with an obvious Baby Boomer who would no doubt appreciate it. Sadly, I had to gently inform him that I knew little about hard rock or heavy metal. Instead, I took the latest issue of Otaku USA off the rack and showed him an article about AKB48, a popular J-pop group whom I had the pleasure of seeing live in New York in 2009, to show him where my tastes ranged. He was surprised, but intrigued. As one of my former co-workers once told me at a Karaoke session, “You are not a typical Baby Boomer.”

Cut to the afternoon of May 26, 2017 and I’m on my way to the gym. I hate to go to the gym when I’m hungry, because it makes me want to cut the session short, and I was suddenly hit with a rare craving for a Whopper, so I went to Burger King, across the street from FYE, intending to eat and sit for a half-hour reading the paper before going to the gym. I was alarmed to note that there were absolutely no personnel behind the counter. If there was no line of customers, I’d have thought the place was closed. (This Burger King is notoriously understaffed and poorly managed.) Furious, I left and went down the block to McDonald’s to get the less-desired Quarter Pounder. There I ran into a neighborhood friend who told me that FYE was closing and the next day, Saturday, would be the last day. If I hadn’t had the craving for a fast burger and if I hadn’t gotten impatient with Burger King, I never would have known about this. I had bought some items at FYE in the preceding weeks and noted the sale prices, but I had seen no notice of closure. After my session at the gym, I went to FYE and found a box set of Perry Mason, the complete nine-season run, for $199.99, way too high a price.

Now the discounts offered were 50% off Used DVDs and 40% off new (which this set was). I did the math and still didn’t like the price, but I really wanted the set (I only had the first season in my collection at this point), so I went up to the affable manager, Ray (pictured below), whom I’ve chatted with for years and asked, perchance, if I could get a better discount than 40%. He took care of me and I took it home for about half the price. Granted, it still would have been about $15 cheaper on Amazon, but the important thing is I now had the set and didn’t have to deal with the hassle of waiting for its delivery.

I went back on Saturday, the last day, to see what other final items I could get on sale. Plenty of other people had the same idea. I found lots of things I wanted and took a few pictures. I wound up paying $137.25 total for eight box sets, three single DVDs and one Blu-ray, containing a total of 186 TV episodes and eight movies. These included four Power Rangers sets, two Pokémon sets and one Pokémon movie. The cheapest item was Vol. 11 of Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny for $1.99 and the biggest bargain was the second season (30 eps.) of Hogan’s Heroes for $3.99. The most expensive item was Funimation’s Blu-ray of MOMOTARO: SACRED SAILORS, a rare 1945 animated feature and piece of wartime propaganda from Japan for $20.99. In most cases, the items would each have been a little cheaper on Amazon. But I wasn’t complaining. If I add up all the purchases I made at FYE in its last month, it would be as if I paid $1 for each Perry Mason episode and got all the rest for free. Not a bad way to justify it.

And the TV on DVD section:

As you can see from the Star Trek prices, even during a sale they can be pretty steep:

Back home, I gathered up all my May purchases from FYE and laid them out:

Now I have to watch this stuff. I’ve already plunged into the second season of Perry Mason, which I’m enjoying immensely, but the rest of the batch so far remains untouched until I get through some other series.

Meanwhile, I’m staying clear of Starbucks for the time being. Coffee is much cheaper at McDonald’s down the block or Dunkin’ Donuts on the other side of Pelham Parkway. I’ve always argued that the Bronx is gentrification-proof and that includes my neighborhood. Someone is determined to prove me wrong.

Once more, a fond adieu…

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