By Jordan Cutler-Tietjen
Many parents freeze when asked to pick a favorite child. Hamlet Shahbazian has the same problem with movies.
“All movies, to me, are precious. I try not to discriminate; I love them all for what they are,” he explains smiling. He’s surrounded on three sides by bookcases extending from wall-to-wall, shelves stuffed with Blu-Rays, each individual title stacked precariously but tenderly, as if, when tipped off its platform, it would sprout wings mid-fall and alight once again on the top mantel. A kaleidoscope of movie posters deck the walls, but look away, and you’d swear they’re moving behind your back. It’s undeniable; the whole shop just feels like magic, and Shahbazian is its wise Ollivander.
But when he returns to his regular place behind the counter, Shahbazian no longer lends out popular movies like all-time favorite “The Sound of Music” or foreign films off the market, what used to be his regular routine. Shahbazian greets the first customer, takes the first film out of the bag she has been filling for the past half-hour, thinks, and then decides, “I’ll give it to you for 5.” Five minutes later, and the thirty-plus movies in the bag are pulling out of the parking lot in a blue Sedan, never to hear the jangle of the bell above the metal door again.
La Cañada Video is going out of business, which means that Shahbazian, who opened the store with his wife thirty-three years ago, must sell the more than 55,000 titles in his collection. He has until October 31 to vacate the premises, just a month to rid the store of its magic--one precious, shiny disk at a time.
Shahbazian is more than pleased with the shop’s history.
“All collection of my memories are sweet,” he says, and his eyes blush with treasured nostalgia. But ask him about having to leave, and his contentment quickly fades.
“I wouldn’t have left now. I can’t say about the future, but I wasn’t planning to leave like this.”
In August, Shahbazian’s storefront was struck with a surprise eviction notice soon after the small strip mall that included La Cañada Video was renovated, sparking a dramatic increase in rent. Despite having agreed with landlord Al Cabraloff that the store would keep churning out videos until the end of October, Shahbazian saw that the notice demanded a near-immediate liquidation, essentially impossible and undeniably unjust. The peaceful, bustling atmosphere that usually graced La Cañada Video was gone, and, in its place, a cruel, tragic fate emerged. The store had met a real-life villain, not unlike the thousands that have been torturing protagonists inside the DVDs for decades.
But just like any cinematic hero, Shahbazian wasn’t going to give up on his life’s work without a fight. With the help of his son Ernest (“He’s a good boy, always helps me with technology”), Shahbazian initiated a petition on Change.org to convince Cabraloff to uphold their original agreement and let the store close, with deserved dignity, at the end of October.
As community members got word of the movement, more and more people took up Shahbazian’s cause as their own. When junior Shannon Settles heard about the predicament, she spread the word on Facebook, telling everyone she knew to sign the petition.
“La Canada is such a small community,” she explained. “La Canada Video has been here for more than thirty years, and loyal for more than thirty years, and now they’re trying to kick him out like he’s nothing. [Shahbazian] deserves to leave respectfully.”
Her plea didn’t fall on deaf ears, as within three weeks, the petition garnered 1,549 signatures from concerned members of the community.
“Hamlet is one of the smartest, kindest operators of a business that I have ever known,” lauded Katy McCollum, one of the many passionate commenters on the online petition. “My family has done business with LC Video since they opened and I have never felt sadder about a store closing [...] Hamlet and his lovely wife deserve to close when they were promised. You will be sorely missed!!”
After spreading the gift of movie magic far and wide for more than three decades, Shahbazian had finally received some magic in return. On September 8, Cabraloff backed down, allowing Shahbazian to close his doors on October 31, the originally agreed-upon date.
Shahbazian is especially grateful for the extra months of breathing room, not only because he’s been able to sell his stock at a more leisurely pace, but also because he’s had time to relive the glory days with his patrons one last time.
“I think the support of the customers in the last two weeks has been my favorite part of the job. They all went out of their way to come and say their goodbyes to me,” he said.
Paying respects. The idea seems almost foreign today. Sure, Netflix is popular and convenient, but it doesn’t build communities. You can’t gather at Netflix to talk about the latest blockbuster or the most underrated foreign film. You’d never leave Netflix in tears, mourning its upcoming loss like I saw one woman do. You can’t--you wouldn’t--pay your respects to it.
So yes, Shahbazian’s precious movies will be bought, and they will sprinkle each house with their fairy dust as surely as the concept of a “movie emporium” will soon become extinct. But, as we welcome the digital age into our homes, we destroy a home away from home. Maybe that’s why the shop’s closing is so tragic. It gave us a space to meet, gather, and commune, to remember watching “Toy Story” for the first time with childhood friends, or to bond over a shared love of Wes Anderson with new ones. So, perhaps the magic of La Cañada Video was never actually the movies, but the way people came to watch them.
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