Toronto’s iconic Queen Video selling off massive collection before store closure

Toronto’s iconic Queen Video selling off massive collection before store closure
When Queen Video first opened at its namesake location, owner Howard Levman says it was difficult to get enough films to stock its shelves.

Now as he prepares to close the store for good, Levman said the same issues have contributed to his decision to call it quits.

Levman opened his first video store in 1981 on Queen Street West when the VHS and Betamax industry was in its infancy. He was able to expand his business to four locations. But as the popularity of the rental industry waned, he closed the stores one-by-one. On Friday, Queen Video began to sell off its remaining 40,000 films in preparation of the final store’s closure at the end of April.

“The industry had dwindled steadily over the past many years, it’s just not enough people now renting films,” said Levman outside the Bloor Street West location.

Mar 20, 2019 at 9:47am PDT

The sale was so popular that customers had to wait in line before getting a chance to pick through the collection.

“I’m going to really miss the people who are very passionate about us … There’s just unfortunately not enough of them,” he said.

Levman said when he began his store 38 years ago, it was difficult to find some videos. The same issue exists now he said as some filmmakers prefer to hold onto exclusive streaming rights. Still, for many, Queen Video has been the place where you could find the films you couldn’t locate anywhere else.

Joey Litvak said he’s been coming to the store since he was 12 years old ever since a trip to film camp ignited a passion for movies.

“You could always talk to the staff who were really knowledgeable,” said Litvak.

“[They] just had great recommendations for you based on what you were interested in and stuff you had never heard of before.”

In a cruel twist of fate, the debit machine broke the night before the sale. Long-time employee Sivi Levine said the customers remained patient as the sale began with an appropriately vintage cash only sale. It’s just one reason why she’s going to miss the store.

“This is my life. This has been for 26 years — 19 at this store,” said Levine.

While taking a break between helping customers, Levine said she’s going to keep in touch with the faithful who have been coming to the store over the years, and it’s easy to understand why. Apart from the conversation, Queen Video patrons are also fiercely loyal.

Chris Simon said he was unaware the store was closing until he saw the sign outside. He was sure to come in to pay off his $4 late fee.

“I thought they probably could use me paying their late fees in a time like this,” said Simon.

After the loss of Honest Ed’s, Simon said seeing Queen Video preparing to shut its doors will be another big blow to the Bloor West landscape.

Some like Lilliane Schacter said they worry about what the closure will mean for those looking for certain films.

“They also had a collection of fantastic old films and great directors … I think we’re losing a little bit of culture here,” she said.

Filmmaker Atom Egoyan shares that opinion. He shot his second feature in a Queen Video store and said he’ll miss the communal aspect the store offered.

Showing off obscure titles that he purchased in the sale, Egoyan said the loss of rentable video collections will be hard to replace with streaming services.

It’s the end of an era for Queen Video. People lined up ahead of its closing sale this morning before getting a chance to purchase some of its expansive collection.

“Yes, you could probably find these online, but you’re not going to have the experience of being able to meet other people, discuss it,” said Egoyan.

“Queen Video is a hub — it’s kind of a pilgrimage any cinefile was making.”
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