Say Goodbye to One of NYC’s Last Beloved Video Stores

It was inevitable, but it’s still tragic. Alan’s Alley Video — one of the last remaining video stores in NYC — has a “For Lease” sign in the window, as the landlord is seeking a higher-paying tenant. The 25-year-old Chelsea landmark (207 9th Avenue), which serves old videos as well as DVDs of new releases, is the brainchild of Alan Sklar, who has served a community of film lovers looking for things that aren’t quite so obvious and available. (A friend of mine recently curated my home with the entire Ken Russell collection thanks to Alan’s. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Roger Daltrey do a Texas two-step as Franz Liszt.) A victim of both rising rents and technology changing the way people get their movies, Alan’s is a gem, down to the winding shelves and the imperious cat who stares you down as you search them. And the store always gave you several nights with the film, and without even the bother of a membership (just a credit card and ID). Here’s my chat with Alan Sklar, 65.

Hi, Alan. Are you the last video store in NYC?

Pretty close. Video Room may still be around.

How many movies do you carry in the store?

Thirty thousand. Most of them are DVD. Maybe 3,000 videos.

So people still have VCRs? (I know I do.)

They do, and we have some films that are only VHS. Something like “Desire” with Gary Cooper.

What’s your personal favorite film?

“I Know Where I’m Going.”

With Wendy Hiller?

Correct. Michael Powell’s made greater films — “The Red Shoes,” “Black Narcissus” — but it’s so romantic.

What did you do before opening this store in 1988?

I had a video store in Forest Hills. I’m from Brooklyn. I grew up on the block of a movie theater — the Highway.

To what do you attribute your love of movies?

Living on the block of a movie theater.

Well, you could live on the block of a gas station, but that doesn’t mean you’d go there every day. Do movies represent escapism to you?

Escapism is a part of it. Throughout the years, great moviegoing has made an impression for people who wanted to get outside their own lives. Feature films are my favorite.

Has the store grown?

The inventory has. We started with a couple thousand films and kept putting money back into the collection. The store is the same size as before, but it’s kind of bulging.

Is it true you’ve been open 365 days a year, even Christmas?

Every day. The only day we were closed was the blackout. I think I also closed the first day of Sandy.

 What about 9/11?

I was here. I didn’t know what to do. Realizing no one was going to come in, I kept abreast of the news all day. It was either stay here or sit in my apartment, so I stayed here. There were lots of people going by, to their homes, trying to reach people on the cell phones. The next day, there was this huge thing where nobody was going to work and the city was on lockdown, and by late afternoon, people started coming in and getting movies, not to think about it. We kind of became the neighborhood psychologist. The feedback was how happy people were that we were here. My first thoughts were, “That’s the end of this business.” And it became something completely different.

You’ve provided that service all the time. It was new technology that eventually hurt the business, no?

Absolutely. People can stream things. Stores like Blockbuster came and went. But we were a completely different type of store. And over the years we’ve had great staff. Amazing kids. Some know a lot more than I have. And niche — some people specialize in horror movies and thrillers. Other people are about ’80s and ’90s movies.

What’s a really popular old movie that you carry?

“The Bitter Tea of General Yen” [the 1933 Frank Capra drama starring Barbara Stanwyck] hasn’t been released for that long. It’s Pre-Code. Pre-Code does very well here.

You have a lot of other obscure gems from the past.

“The Belles of St. Trinian’s” never came out on DVD. We have a few copies.

The remake was pretty terrible.

Yeah. They keep trying it. Somebody made money 30 or 40 years ago, so let’s do it again.

Which current films are doing well?

Oscar movies like “Philomena,” “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street.” “The Great Beauty” is doing well here.

That was great for an hour.

We have a large selection of British titles. “Broadchurch” has been the most popular thing. It’s a murder mystery with David Tennant, who’s currently reprising the role on American TV.

Tell me about the cat. Is he yours?

I’m his person, more likely. He likes dogs, he likes movies. People are good, they’re all right. He sets himself out on the register sometimes.

How has the neighborhood changed through the years?

Pretty dramatically. It was a borderline but up-and-coming neighborhood at first. The movement of the art galleries has caused a big change. There are a lot more people from other countries. But traveling through the neighborhood, street traffic doesn’t necessarily translate to business traffic.

Is it true you might relocate?

It’s a possibility. We’re looking into it. We’re definitely leaving this location. I’m looking to stay in Chelsea.

But something more affordable.

That’s the key.

Why do you have four copies of “Cabaret”?

This is Chelsea.

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