Best Video Film and Cultural Center in Hamden is asking the Greater New Haven community for funds to help keep it afloat. The store has thrived in the post-video rental era, but a series of setbacks may force the non-profit to close for good.
Best Video got its start in the 1980s, where it had a reputation for stocking classic and foreign films and other hard-to-find gems.
As the video rental industry eventually gave way to streaming services like HBO Go and Hulu, Best Video evolved -- opening up a cafe, hosting regular film festivals, and bringing in an eclectic mix of live music, all the while expanding their collection of movies. Photographer Tom Hearn has been going to Best Video for decades, and his rockabilly band Big Fat Combo recently played there. He said there is nothing comparable to it in the New Haven area.
“You get lost in the place just looking at the shelves of all the great films,” said Hearn, “And I think it's a mix of film buffs, serious film buffs, neighborhood folks, a lot of artists, musicians, and photographers. There's really something for anybody.”
But now the beloved Hamden institution is on the verge of closing.
“We've been falling behind,” said Hank Hoffman, Best Video's program director. “We have about $12,000 owed to vendors. We continue to be hit hard by streaming. We had expectations that we had hit a floor on the losses from streaming, but this has been a tough summer.”
According to an article in The Arts Paper, an online daily publication of The Arts Council of Greater New Haven, monthly payments to the original owner of Best Video, Hank Paper for the purchase of the store doubled this summer, further compounding the problem.
Another factor is membership. While there are thousands of customers who come in and rent movies on a regular basis, Best Video has been encouraging people to sign up for membership, where they can take out one or two movies a week depending on the level of membership. Membership in the non-profit is nowhere near the level needed to sustain the store, according to Hank Hoffman.
“We've gotten about halfway to what we would consider our minimum membership that could really sustain us as a strong financial foundation,” said Hoffman.
So for the next two weeks, Best Video Film and Cultural Center will take to social media, hoping to add 200 to 500 new members, and raise $50,000 in contributions.
Hoffman said he's hopeful. Best Video has faced financial woes in the past, and the community has stepped up to help keep it going. But without the support, Hoffman said Best Video will have to start the process of closing its doors for good.