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Hamden Video Store Finds Creative Way to Keep the Doors Open

For 30 years, a small shop in Hamden has been a place for film buffs to gather and talk movies.

In an age of film streaming and instant video when-you-want-it, where-you-want-it, most independent video-rental stores are going the way of the dinosaur.

For 30 years, a small shop in Hamden has been a place for film buffs to gather and talk movies. Now it's pursuing a creative way to keep the doors open.

Best Video’s shelves are packed with foreign films -- dozens of classic collections arranged by director or by actor. There are Oscar winners and Oscar losers, obscure indie documentaries, great TV series, and of course, the Hollywood blockbusters.

Assistant Manager Hank Hoffman said there are over 30,000 titles. "It just covers all the bases from low culture to high culture and mid-cult. Whatever you want, we have it," he said. 

He's one of several people behind the counter here with an encyclopedic knowledge not only of the shop’s collection but of film history in general. In the coming weeks, Hoffman is to become president of the new non-profit Best Video Film and Cultural Center.  

"The video business has obviously gone through major changes," he said.  "And it's not possible to maintain a video store on a profitable basis. If it was just a Tommy K’s or Blockbuster it would make sense just to close the store. But this is a place for people to gather, to talk movies, to meet their neighbors, to find out what’s going on in the arts."

The new non-profit will be able to preserve the film archive and may move from a two-night movie rental model to more of a longer-term membership model. The space itself has changed in the past few years, with the addition of a coffee shop and small performance area that regularly hosts live music, literary readings, film screenings, and lectures. 

Credit Diane Orson / WNPR
Best Video Assistant Manager Hank Hoffman works behind the counter as a young boy checks out a DVD.

Hoffman said they also plan to expand their mission. "We’re interested in leveraging this archive to reach the schools. Our intention is to be in touch with teachers about an after school program in which we could come up curricula on the aesthetics of film but also the content and ideas of film," he said. 

Best Video is partnering with The Institute Library in New Haven as it makes the changes, and Hoffman said it's part of a growing community of small scale cultural centers in the region exploring new and creative ways to bring people and arts together. 

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