Baptised by neon

Take an old paint store. Fill it with movies. Lots of movies. Thousands of movies.

No, no. Not in any order. Just put them anywhere. Organize them by genre, but that’s it.

Vaguely update the sign. Sure, keep those neon paint cans. Reorganize some of the letters to spell “Fun.” Wait, no “F?” Go ahead and cut that “R” into shape. There you go. Perfect.

The Minnesota Avenue Video Mania Store (via Video Mania home page)

Fill the window with large plants. Make the floor layout like a maze. Hire only the dirtiest looking people. Use the upstairs for porn. No, not the softcore stuff you can get on Cinemax – we’re talking the real thing. Go ahead. Put it all upstairs. While you’re at it, advertise a 365-day-a-year adult movie sale. After all, you need to keep the product fresh.

Did I mention having the movies in no order whatsoever? That’s important.

Perfect. Welcome to Video Mania. Or, to be specific, Video Mania Store 4 – The Fun Store.

But don’t stick around too long. It’s the only Video Mania remaining. And it’s closing.

Located right on Minnesota, The Fun Store was the most visible of Video Mania’s four stores and, for as long as I can remember, it’s most successful. It was one of the first video stores in the area to feature DVDs (hence, their claim as the city’s DVD Store) and when DVD rentals dipped, they became one of the only real Internet cafes in town.

Aside from this, they are best known for being a scary, sketchy chain of businesses. Video Mania was famous for not caring much about looking good. The most common fixture is duct-taped carpet. It’s staff could be more “escaped convict” than “friendly smile.” It’s where you went for a cheap movie. It’s where you went when your Blockbuster card had late fees.

And though the store was filthy, the staff unresponsive and the films unorganized, and though they’ve tried renting inflatable animals, video cameras and Internet access long after the industry was viable, Video Mania is still legendary. Legendary in the same way an old, failing bar with a cantankerous bartender is legendary, or a mangy cat with too many years. In a way that requires patience, that demands back story, that looks for a special kind of insider knowledge.

Legendary in its rundown nature. Legendary because it was here first, and because there are memories housed within its failing frame.

As a kid, I lived just blocks from Video Mania. And, as an avid Nintendo junkie, I was in love with the store for its revolutionary ideas.

Like 33-MARIO, the local phone number to see what new video game titles had arrived. (The recordings, always done by the store owner, Harlan, frequently referred to Ms. Pac-Man as “M.S. Pac-Man.”)

Or the Hourly-Arcade, a line of video game systems set up like an arcade, with hourly rates – a smorgasbord of choices, a way to keep us kids out of our parents hair.

Video Mania was the first place that bought and sold used video games in Sioux Falls. It was an early adopter of live, webcams, regardless of their relevance. It filled its walls with unclassifiable films and games; the kind that you couldn’t find anywhere else. Its selection was wildly varied, spanning the entire length of recorded film. Old, new, it all melded together, making each visit a certifiable treasure hunt, with only an old, very basic computer available to aid you in your search. It was dirty, and mean, and gross. But it was fun. And it was mine.

One by one, each Video Mania location has closed, their doors barred by a new breed of video store – one that catered to the clean, to the easy, to those who only wanted to watch new movies and had little time for searching or, in most cases, true aesthetics – and a new wave of online DVD delivery. In addition, the owner’s frequent troubles with newspaper vending machines has led to numerous fines and a heightened state of agitation. The lease on the second-to-last store was not renewed, and continued pressure has forced Harlan out.

Regardless of the reasons, Video Mania, now with just one location remaining, seemingly on life support for years, is having its plug pulled. Dutch Auctions have begun, with the stock being sold off to the first people to find the right value.

My dream? To go down during its last days and see if those neon letters are still for sale. The letters that broadcast the business’s frugality, their inattention to detail, their rock-bottom nature. That “F,” lovingly crafted from an “R,” the first letter in a grand promise – that inside those doors, through those plants, around the documentary section and into the back, would be a world of fun.

My fear, though, is that the building will be torn down, ground into rubble and forgotten. Another chapter in Sioux Falls local business torn away from the bindings, like so many others before.

With the “FUN” left to rust. With all of its filthy charms left to die.

This was lovingly handwritten on June 30th, 2008